Jersey City, NJ – The Jersey City Council unanimously approved an ordinance, sponsored by Councilman-at-Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., to create the state’s first Immigrant Affairs Commission (the “Commission”). Supporters staged a rally in front of City Hall, where the “Gang of Eight’s” comprehensive immigration reform bill was also at the fore. With last week’s vote, Jersey City is expected to become the first municipality in New Jersey to form such a Commission.
Lavarro stated, “Comprehensive immigration reform is coming, but it will only be the first step. Jersey City must be ready for immigration reform – so that our immigrants can actually qualify for citizenship. We need to start looking at social services such as English training, citizenship courses, and quality legal help so that our immigrant friends and families can seize the opportunity when it arrives. The Immigrant Affairs Commission will be key and in the forefront in addressing these issues.”
The Commission would advise Jersey City government on issues and needs affecting immigrants, including: social services, civil and human rights, education, and business development; monitor current and proposed laws affecting immigrants to maximize positive impacts while minimizing any negative impacts; promote recognition and preservation of the contributions of immigrants to the economic and cultural vitality of Jersey City; and promote the availability of local educational, economic, legal, and social resources for immigrants.
Immediately before the vote, immigrants’ rights groups rallied in support of the Commission, including members of the ACLU-NJ, American Friends Service Committee, Anakbayan NJ, Gothic Knight Grassroots, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NAFFAA), People’s Organization for Progress, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), St. Peter University Social Justice Program, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU 32BJ). With its passage, the Commission is set to become the first of its kind in the State.
“Anakbayan welcomes the City Council’s unanimous approval of the Immigrant Affairs Commission,” said Bea Sabino, Chairperson, Anakbayan New Jersey. “The community’s victories on Tuition Equity for DREAMers and the Immigrant Affairs Commission prove that a strong and united peoples’ movement is essential to influence public policy towards genuine immigration reform.”
“As we all know, the immigrant community here very often does not have all the resources to address the issues that they are faced with or the different needs that they have,” said Navneet Bhalla, New Jersey Policy and Outreach Coordinator/Consultant for SAALT. “So it’s fundamental that we have a separate entity, a local immigrant affairs commission that focuses specifically on addressing the needs of all our diverse communities and recognizes the positive contributions that immigrant communities make in Jersey City.”
The immigrant community makes up 38.4% of Jersey City’s population, amounting to almost 20% of New Jersey’s total immigrant population. Despite these numbers, however, Jersey City government has not had a dedicated entity to ensure that the needs and concerns of the immigrant community are addressed – until now. Lavarro seeks to have the Commission fill this gap, serving as a formal voice between Jersey City’s immigrant community and city, state and Federal government.
Since joining the Jersey City Council in 2011, Lavarro has championed immigrants’ rights. Last year, Lavarro sponsored and successfully passed a law establishing a living wage in Jersey City. Last February, Lavarro spearheaded a resolution to support in-state tuition and financial aid for undocumented students, also known as DREAMers, wishing to attend New Jersey’s public colleges and universities. The resolution broke new ground on the issue in New Jersey, with other cities now looking to follow. Passaic City Council recently enacted its own resolution modeled after the Jersey City resolution authored and passed by Lavarro.
“Jersey City has accomplished another first for immigrants’ rights. With the Immigrant Affairs Commission, we are ensuring that our great city of Jersey City fully embraces immigrants and that their voices are amplified for all in City Hall, Trenton, and our nation’s capitol to hear,” said Lavarro.
PHOTO CAPTION: Councilman-At-Large Rolando Lavarro stands with SEIU, Anakbayan and other immigrant rights advocates.