LatinaLista — According to the Eagleton Institute of Politics, twenty percent of New Jersey’s population is comprised of immigrants. Those numbers make it the third highest state in the nation home to foreign-born residents.
So, when it was announced today that New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration Policy had released their report recommending the best strategies for a statewide approach to successfully integrate New Jersey’s immigrant population, it was immediately hailed by some as a positive step in acknowledging immigrants’ contributions to the state.
Yet, while the intention was good, within only a few hours of the release of the report, Governor Corzine is already finding some of the recommendations politically “problematic.”
The specific recommendations that have put Governor Corzine on a path of backpedaling his support for the proposed changes have to do with walking the fine line between undocumented and legal status of the immigrants in his state.
In first convening the Blue Ribbon Panel 18 months ago, Corzine wanted recommendations from people who knew firsthand the needs of the immigrant population in the state. What he didn’t count on was that these days when immigrants are discussed, the default focus is on undocumented immigrants.
It’s this way because there is so much more need to relieve the suffering of these people, and in some, if not most cases, the undocumented outnumber the legal immigrant residents in some communities.
As a result, some of the panel’s recommendations like:
- Professional Credentialing — Outlining a clear path to accreditation for immigrants who were professionals in their countries of origin
- Establish an immigrant welcome center, which could be either physical or virtual.
- Enhance treatment capacity for uninsured persons.
- Establish appropriate language support for limited English proficient persons, so they can be civically engaged in local communities.
- Municipalities should conduct citizen police academies that are designed to help immigrant community members become familiar with howtheir duties and how the department serves the community.
- The state should establish an Ombudsman within the Division of Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety, which would be the entity to which school discrimination cases are reported.
- Local communities should consider changes in signage and public notices, such as proposed zoning changes, to include information for multiple language groups, especially information that is critical to public safety.
Are non-controversial and even admirable recommendations that work to fully integrate and protect new immigrant residents.
Yet, some of the other recommendations like:
- Immigrants, regardless of their status, should be assured that they are entitled to seek and obtain housing assistance of any city agency without having to disclose their immigration status.
- It should be made clear to first responders, the immigrant community, and to the public in general that disaster relief is not conditional on immigration status.
- The Panel supports the initiative embodied in current proposed legislation that would provide for charging the full in-state tuition rate to persons who meet specified NJ residency requirements, regardless of their immigration status under federal law.
- Granting driver’s licenses to undocumented with the consultation of the Department of Homeland Security.
These recommendations that directly take into account undocumented immigrants are the ones that are proving more difficult for Governor Corzine. He can either take to heart the recommendations and pass them into law, thus directly challenging current federal immigration policy and placing his own political future in question or pick and choose, cafeteria-style, those recommendations that don’t directly deal with undocumented immigrants.
If he does the latter, then he will be characterized as not just lacking the political will to enact the recommendations of the very panel he convened, but turning his back on the demographic that most members of the panel thought they were finally being given a chance to advocate for on a state level.
However, there is already a hint at how the Governor will handle the “problematic” recommendations.
“There are some recommendations, no matter how well intentioned, that cannot be accomplished without a comprehensive policy at the federal level, and drivers’ licenses for the undocumented is one of them,” Corzine said. “This is a tremendously important but complex issue that cannot be resolved with piecemeal solutions at the state level absent of a comprehensive federal policy.”
So, for now, the undocumented remain relegated to the shadows — until someone can act without political fear to do what is right.