Immigration Weekly Round-Up: Pandemic Relief for NJ’s Immigrants; Afghan Refugees Leave Central Jersey Military Base for Permanent Housing; Democrats Urge Biden to Review Treatment of Immigrants at U.S./Mexico Border
New Jersey Immigrant Relief Fund Ending
The Excluded New Jerseyans fund, which maintains funds for undocumented immigrants who were initially excluded from receiving unemployment or stimulus checks during the COVID-19 pandemic, has finally started methodically distributing relief to thousands of people. The state has received almost 22,000 applications and has approved payment of over $9 million in federal money to over 4,000 households.
However, just as the program has truly become both operational and widely known to the public, its end date – Feb. 28, 2022 – has arrived, raising concerns that not all individuals who are eligible for benefits applied in time. Accordingly, advocates of the program are calling for Gov. Murphy to extend the filing deadline to ensure maximum participation. State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), among others, is questioning why the program must end this month – indicating that she would not only push for an extension of the deadline, but also to continue adding federal pandemic relief funds for as long as the demand persists. She said she hopes Gov. Murphy “keeps open the program and deposits another $10 million to connect people who are in critical need.”
Last of Afghan Refugees Depart New Jersey Base
The last group of thousands of Afghan refugees temporarily residing at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey have been resettled to more permanent housing across the United States. Out of eight military bases housing, Afghan refugees following the United States’ troop withdrawal last year, McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst held the largest number, including over 14,000 at one time. Housing on the base will remain open as needed.
The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) indicated the U.S. plans to admit thousands of additional Afghan refugees this year, but the refugees will arrive in smaller groups. While in temporary homes on the U.S. bases, waiting for one of the nonprofit refugee organizations to find permanent living arrangements for them, refugees complete processing of immigration applications and receive appropriate health screenings. Afghan refugees have settled in communities throughout the nation, from California to Virginia, Arizona to Georgia, and New York to Florida.
A large percentage of those fleeing violence in Afghanistan – about 40%, according to the DHS – qualify for the special visas that provide immigration status for Afghans who served as interpreters for the U.S. military or another U.S. government entity during the war. Other refugees, most of whom were admitted into the U.S. on humanitarian grounds, do not yet qualify for permanent residence, although advocates are now pushing Congress to provide permanent residency through an Afghan “adjustment act” similar to past legislation that protected Cubans and Iraqis fleeing life-threatening situations.
Congressional Democrats Ask President to Reconsider Treatment of Immigrants at Border
Recently, more than 100 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter to President Biden in an effort to address the “often inhumane” treatment of undocumented immigrants by enforcement officials, specifically highlighting the “disparate” treatment of Black immigrants. The letter asked the president to seek a review of law enforcement and judicial records to assess how Black immigrants are treated in comparison to other individuals. This comes after several photos of physical altercations between Customs and Border Patrol officers and undocumented Black immigrants in Texas were made public last fall.
The letter also addresses concerns about President Biden’s use of a Trump-era pandemic-related public health rule to turn away immigrants at the U.S./Mexico border, including those seeking asylum. While the U.S. eventually admitted some of the Black immigrants into the U.S. to process their asylum claims, many others were expelled from the country, predominantly to Haiti, without allowing them to go through the immigration process.
A spokesperson for the Biden administration responded to the letter, stating that immigration laws “are enforced across the board regardless of country of origin,” and defending the continued use of the public health rule, stating it is in accordance with CDC guidance.