JERSEY CITY, NJ – Emboldened to fight for immigrants’ rights, Councilman-At-Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr. called tdoay for the formation of an advisory board — to be known as an Immigrant Affairs Commission — to find progressive policies to assist Jersey City’s immigrant communities. The proposal aims to help immigrant communities leverage the potential they bring and overcome the issues they face – including passing comprehensive immigration reform, protecting workers from exploitation, and making sure immigration policies are just and fair. Lavarro said this proposal, which would be the first of its kind in the state of New Jersey, will be introduced at the next meeting of the Jersey City Council.
“While Congress is looking to improve our nation’s immigration laws, there are things that we can do at the local level to help ensure that there’s a pathway to citizenship, workers are protected, and that Jersey City’s immigrant families are kept together. An Immigrant Affairs Commission would help us do just that,” Lavarro said.
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 does not have a dedicated entity to ensure that the needs and concerns of the immigrant community are voiced and recognized – let alone addressed. Lavarro’s proposal to form a Commission would seek to fill this gap – serving as a formal voice between Jersey City’s immigrant community and city, state and Federal government. In 2009, the New Jersey Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrant Policy recommended that municipalities in the state form such commissions. The proposed ordinance also cites a 2008 study by the Eagleton Institute for Politics, which showed that immigrant workers contributed at least $47 billion to the state economy, further commenting that the state can ill-afford to alienate a critical component of its labor force, tax base, and business community.
Under Lavarro’s proposal, the Commission would be comprised of dedicated community leaders and advocates, who would advise Jersey City government on issues affecting immigrants including: civil and human rights, social services, education, and business development. The Commission would also monitor current and proposed laws at the local, state and Federal levels to ensure compliance and minimize any effects that would be harmful to immigrants and Jersey City as a whole. The Commission, moreover, would also be charged with recognizing the contributions of immigrants to the economic and cultural vitality of Jersey City. Lavarro plans for the Commission to meet monthly to ensure public participation. To fulfill its duties, the Commission would have broad powers to conduct hearings and studies, as well as issue policy statements.
Equally important and complementary, Lavarro introduced a resolution urging Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship, citing existing complex problems with insufficient numbers of visas for workers to support the U.S. labor force, arbitrary visa caps creating backlogs and separating families, exploitation by employers through wage and workplace violations, and inadequate government infrastructure to support the immigrant population.
Since joining the Jersey City Council in a special election in November 2011, Lavarro has championed immigrant and workers’ rights. Last year, for example, Lavarro sponsored and successfully passed a law establishing a living wage in Jersey City. Additionally, just 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 Jersey City Council unanimously approved the measure , becoming the first municipality in the state to support what has become known as tuition equity for DREAMers.
“Immigrants’ rights are near and dear to me, and there is a lot of work to be done. Establishing an Immigrant Affairs Commission in Jersey City moves us our communities forward, and is just one way to give immigrants a greater voice in city, state, and Federal affairs.” Lavarro said.