Some lawmakers, advocates push for undocumented immigrants to receive unemployment, stimulus funds

State lawmakers are at odds over how to spend some of New Jersey’s federal stimulus money.
Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates want pandemic stimulus and unemployment relief for the half-million undocumented immigrants living in New Jersey. But Republican lawmakers say that the federal stimulus money is better used on other priorities like shoring up the state’s unemployment fund.
Workers who are in the United States illegally are not eligible for unemployment if they lose their jobs, even if they have been paying into the unemployment system through their paychecks.
“We need real relief now,” says Ruth Delgado with the advocacy group Make the Road New Jersey.
On Wednesday, as Assembly budget hearings went on virtually, the group began a fast in front of the Statehouse on behalf of undocumented immigrants and their more than 100,000 U.S. citizen children in the state.
“Just as we are hearing a surplus in the budget, we want to remind our governor and our state Legislature that we are still without any form of economic relief,” says Delgado.
But some Republican lawmakers don’t necessarily agree.
“We’re a country of laws and rules. And I think it’s kind of obscene to be suggesting that we’re going to give people who are not legally in the country stimulus checks,” says Republican state Assemblyman Hal Wirths.
Wirths, who serves as the GOP budget officer in the Assembly, says that there is a reason that undocumented immigrants haven’t received stimulus checks. He says it's illegal for undocumented immigrants to be working in the state.
At his Wednesday coronavirus briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy said he is open to using some of the $6.4 billion the state is receiving from the stimulus to help undocumented immigrants and families.
“I would hope that we could figure something out as it relates to the American Rescue Plan money. I can't promise that, but it's something that we're really trying to address,” Murphy said.
Federal officials still haven't released the guidance that will determine how the state can use stimulus money.
State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio said this week that undocumented immigrants are eligible for higher education assistance and financial aid in New Jersey.