The Latino Action Network is a grassroots organization composed of individuals and organizations that are committed to engaging in collective action at the local, state and national levels in order to advance the equitable inclusion of the diverse Latino communities in all aspects of United States society.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Immigrant wave and Freehold school money crisis


Changing Faces: An ongoing series that examines how our local communities are evolving.

By Karen Yi, @karen_yi

FREEHOLD When Magdalena Romero first opened  her deli here 10 years ago, she says there weren’t any places to buy ingredients like nopales, poblano peppers or squash blossoms — staples of traditional Mexican plates.

La Malinche Deli, tucked on West Main Street between a barber shop and a money-exchange store, offers a cave of comfort to those born in a country more than 2,600 miles away. Mini Mexican flags and sombreros hang overhead, handmade beaded bracelets to ward off negative energy drape one side of the store and rows of pinto beans, black beans and garbanzo beans line the opposite wall.

“These are our things, our customs,” says Romero, who migrated from Mexico in 1998. "People always search for their products, what they're used to."

Less than 500 feet down the bricked sidewalk is Federici’s Family Restaurant, a Freehold fixture and one of the oldest family-run businesses in the area.

“We’ve been in town 94 years,” said co-owner Michael Federici. Here, 65-year-old ovens still crisp pizza pies while patrons in cozy booths feast on recipes dating to the 1920s.

“That pizza has not changed,” said Jim Conover, pastor at St. Rose of Lima Parish, who grew up in Freehold. “Its taste, in all those years, is exactly the same as when I was a kid.”

In this town of 12,000 residents, long-standing traditions converge with new customs brought by waves of Hispanic immigrants. But in many ways the story of Freehold has always been one of migration.

Groups of Scottish, Irish and black migrants have all planted roots here — it was once a center for farmers to exchange goods, and a factory town dotted with retail businesses. At one point considered the downtown of western Monmouth, Freehold has since become a hub for mostly law offices and restaurants, fueled in part by Hispanic workers.

Freehold saw a large influx of Hispanic immigrants between 1990 and 2000. Eleven percent of residents were Hispanic in 1990, spiking to 28 percent in 2000. Now nearly half of this town is Hispanic, according to 2013 census data. The borough’s total population increased by 10 percent, or about 1,000 residents, since 2000.

This boom in Latino families has changed the face of Freehold, as seen in the mix of restaurants, culture and businesses. Where many New Jersey communities have struggled with population declines, Freehold continues largely to buck the trend. But the influx has also weighed on the town’s infrastructure — spurring friction around rental housing, code enforcement and, most recently, in the cash-strapped school system.

Freehold schools have become ground zero for the local immigration debate — albeit a conversation move civil than the one at the national level. The district has been overwhelmed by the influx of mostly Latino students. Voters, weary of high taxes in this working-class town, twice rejected a bond measure to alleviate crowding and say they can't solve the crisis alone.

The Latino community, despite its burgeoning numbers, has not yet amassed the political muscle to force the issue at the polls: most voting-age residents are undocumented, officials say. At public hearings this week, residents weighed in on a measure that would have the state override voters and impose a $32.9 million bond to reduce crowding.

"There's no political power with non-voting, undocumented adults," Freehold Schools Superintendent Rocco Tomazic said. "We keep getting more kids and we don't get any more (state) aid."

The battle over the schools is reminiscent of earlier growing pains.

In the early 2000s, the borough grappled with mounting complaints from longtime residents about littering, overcrowded housing, noise and other public nuisances. Many locals, uneasy with the changing culture, blamed undocumented immigrants for the problems.

Borough officials responded by focusing on "quality of life issues." They began targeting overcrowded apartments and banned loitering in certain areas — a bid to rein in hiring of day laborers. The actions met stiff opposition among immigrant groups, who sued claiming harassment and civil rights violations. Under a settlement, the borough amended its most controversial practices and rescinded others.

"It was difficult," said Mayor Nolan Higgins, who was not mayor at the time. "But things have gotten better as time has gone on."

Many more-recent arrivals second that view; they say they feel more accepted by their citizen neighbors and are invited to participate in town festivals and events. But in many ways a void remains.

"While we’re blending well it’s almost like little individual communities," said Andre McGuire, a pastor at New Beginnings Agape Christian Center for 22 years. "We’re not as cultures meeting and dealing with each other as well as we should."

No room to grow

During a preschool orientation earlier this month, parents packed the auditorium at Park Avenue Elementary waiting to see their new classrooms and meet their teachers. Instructions were read in English, then Spanish.

But instead of walking down the hallways, half the room boarded yellow school buses — their classrooms were three miles away in rented spaces the next town over.


Students walk through Park Avenue Elementary School in Freehold.

Freehold schools have no more room to spare. The pre-k through eighth-grade district — the only one in Monmouth County to receive federal dollars for full-day preschool — rented three classrooms inside Freehold Township’s schools to accommodate pre-k students. It already rents six classrooms for kindergarteners.
Factor in the cost of transportation, rent and custodial services, and that’s $192,224 less the district has available to spend on actually educating its youngest students.
Built to house no more than 1,100 students, 1,700 are enrolled in Freehold schools this year. Of those, 72 percent are Hispanic and more than three-quarters receive free or reduced-price lunch, district officials say.

“It’s been a straight up trajectory of Hispanic students,” said Tomazic. One in four students was Hispanic in 1998. Now, it’s nearly three in four.

Tom Spader, Tom Spader/Gannett

Freehold, NJ Fourth graders in class at the Park Avenue school in Freehold. It is one of the more overcrowded schools in the district. 091615

Most of the students’ parents are undocumented and can’t vote. So when the district asked voters last year for a $32.9 million bond to build 23 additional classrooms, it failed twice. Of the 5,300 registered voters in town, just 611 cast ballots in the December referendum. The question failed, 370 to 241.

School officials say many voters have no children in school or don’t want to pay higher taxes. Others say there’s lingering resentment over the influx of immigrants. Almost half of the residents don’t speak English at home and 36 percent were foreign born.

“The bottom line is, schools are not political places, our job is to educate, our job is not to determine immigration issues, our job is to treat every kid the same,” said Ronnie Dougherty, principal at Freehold Intermediate School and a borough resident.

The district has petitioned state Education Commissioner David Hespe to overturn voters’ decision on the bond. It would be extraordinary if that happens. The education commissioner has only made two such decisions in the past, in 2003 authorizing $19.2 million in bonds for Clark Township school district in Union County and in 2008 authorizing an $800,000 bond  for Milford schools in Hunterdon County.

At the Freehold Learning Center, a large plastic curtain partitions the school's gym, so up to three classes can share the room. The library functions as a computer room and a Spanish class. In the hallways, there’s barely room for children to walk between classes. Two or three kids share a locker.

In the other schools, students are crammed into makeshift classrooms.The middle school has no library. Teachers are constantly rearranging furniture to fit more desks and use the principal’s office or hallways for one-on-one instruction.

Israel Ramirez, a parent at the Early Learning Center, said his children are packed on top of each other. “There are no walls separating classrooms,” he said recently. He said his son last year complained about the noise level and couldn’t concentrate.

Supporters of the bond point to a larger problem facing the district: it is severely underfunded by the state.

In 2008, the state passed the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) which overhauled school funding and gave more money to districts with large numbers of students who did not speak English, had special needs or were considered at-risk.

But in 2010, Gov. Chris Christie cut $1.1 billion in school aid and has held funding flat ever since — underfunding the formula and leaving districts like Freehold struggling to maintain the same level of services amid rising enrollment and student need.

Local revenues, too, are limited. The borough has no room for new development. Average residential property values were $255,000 last year, the 44th lowest in Monmouth, which has 53 municipalities. The borough’s median household income between 2009-2013 was $55,148, lower than the state average of $71,629, according to the census.

Parent Joseph Wisa said he didn’t support the bond because it cost too much, about a $278 increase for the average assessed home at $250,000.

"It was just too much money," Wisa said.

During a public hearing Thursday, Daniel Savino, 83, said he voted against the tax increase because he lives on a fixed income.

“We can't afford it. We need help,” he said. “We have to educate our children, but we also have to support our senior citizens who are striving to stay alive.”

When compared to six neighboring kindergarten through eighth-grade school districts, which all send their students to the Freehold Regional High School district, borough schools have the lowest per-pupil cost of $11,846. The Manalapan-Englishtown district has the second lowest spending at $14,188 per pupil. Colts Neck’s has the highest per-pupil cost, double that of Freehold at $22,345.

“I don’t know how we can continue this way,” said Tomazic.

Adjusting to the immigrant wave

Freehold has adjusted to change before.

Along a vacant strip of land off Throckmorton Street, day laborers wait for work, gathering around an old patio table and mismatched chairs. They write their names on a clipboard when they arrive. Workers are hired in the order of the list.

Cars and trucks periodically pull off the road, its drivers seeking strong hands to paint, tear, scrape and mow. The minimum rate at this makeshift labor lot: $15 an hour, cash.

Mostly Mexican men chat freely on a recent morning, clad in baseball caps and construction boots. Some have lived in Freehold for the last decade, others have young families. One arrived nine days ago from Guatemala.

“My first day here was terrifying, I thought immigration [agents] would come,” said Vidal Chiquito Roldan, 44, who is undocumented.

Tom Spader, Tom Spader/Gannett

Freehold, NJ Day laborers on Throckmorton & Rhea St 091615

But things have changed along this section off Throckmorton Street known as the muster zone. Police don’t bother those seeking work here and the last time immigration agents were spotted in the area was four years ago, day laborers say.

In the early 2000s, this strip across from Rhea Street, was the nucleus for a legal battle between the borough and undocumented immigrants.

Divisiveness gripped the town as long-time residents blamed littering, loitering and excessive noise on undocumented immigrants. Local borough officials cracked down, closing the muster zone, requiring absentee landlords to list each of their tenants, and ramping up code enforcement to handle rental overcrowding.

Tom Spader, Tom Spader/Gannett

Freehold, NJ Day laborers on Throckmorton & Rhea St 091615

The actions sparked a 2003 lawsuit by a coalition of immigrant rights groups which claimed the borough was systematically discriminating against Latinos. The borough denied those claims but as part of a settlement, reopened the muster zone and changed its procedures for inspecting rental homes.

Freehold became a microcosm for the national immigration debate. Elected officials at the time questioned why such a small town of less than 2-square miles should have to shoulder the burden of the immigration problem alone. Affluent towns surrounding the borough also reaped the benefits of cheap labor — undocumented workers staffed the kitchens, landscaped pristine lawns and swept offices after hours. But it was the borough that was forced to confront major shifts in its schools, housing and along streets like Throckmorton.

"Twelve years ago the doors were slammed on us almost everywhere," said Rita Dentino, who heads Casa Freehold, a nonprofit which advocates for immigrant workers. "Things are better, but I still think there’s a long way to go and right now we’re in a precarious time because of what Donald Trump is stirring up." The Republican presidential front-runner has pledged to deport illegal immigrants and end birthright citizenship for their children.

Immigrant rights groups say they haven’t received any complaints about housing inspections or harassment of day laborers lately. In 2003, the code enforcement office, which inspects rental homes, received 3,250 complaints and issued 230 summonses, 57 for overcrowded dwellings. Last year it received 700 complaints and issued 94 summonses, 83 for property maintenance.

“We’ve cut back on a lot of the overcrowding,” said Henry Stryker III, director of code enforcement. “Is it still out there? Yes. Is it running rampant like it was five and 10 years ago? No.”

Where cultures meet

Carl N. Steinberg pulls out an old map tucked deep in his antique store on Monmouth Avenue. He points to businesses sprawled across it: the Coffee Shoppe, Ballew Jewelers, Mr. Frebbles and others.

“Gone, gone, gone,” says Steinberg, 63, a realtor and local store owner. “I’ve watched them all come and go.”

Tom Spader, Tom Spader/Gannett

Freehold, NJ Carl Steinberg, former councilman, collector of antiques - 2 Monmouth Avenue 091615

Much of the retail that dotted the old downtown is no longer here, stamped out as Route 9 became a corridor for development in the 1960s and the Freehold Raceway Mall opened in 1990.
“It was ‘Leave it to Beaverville’ here,” said Steinberg, who moved out of the borough recently. He says he remembers walking down Main Street when he was a kid, clinging to his father, a local businessman.
“My father knew everybody and everybody knew who I was,” he said.

Mayor Higgins grew up in the funeral home he inherited from his family and now runs on Center Street. He remembers hearing the looms of the now-closed rug mill click back and forth a block and a half away.

Steve Goldberg, who purchased and restored the American Hotel on East Main Street in 2006, said he decided to fix the rundown hotel, originally built in 1827 as a stagecoach stop, when he "realized how important this particular place is to the history of Freehold."

Stories like these are part of the fabric of Freehold, a borough that produced Bruce Springsteen, serves as the county seat and has a long history of welcoming migrants looking for work. But so are stories like that of Andres Pinto, a Chilean immigrant, who opened a tailor shop on Main Street 28 years ago.

"Before we were like two or three guys here" that spoke Spanish, said Pinto. Now he says he’s seeing more Latinos open their own stores.The changing population has also changed his clothes-altering business. As the population of Mexicans grew, he began renting tuxedos for QuinceaƱeras — the coming of age party for 15-year-old Latina girls — and altering the wedding-like dresses used by debutants.

At the intersection of Route 79 and Route 537, there's a 7-foot-tall granite memorial bearing 1,385 names of men and women who served in World War II. It sits on a triangular park dovetailing with Main Street, where Spanish-speaking workers are heard in restaurant kitchens between clangs of dishes and bursts of ranchero music.

Around 5 p.m. workers spattered with paint and dust walk alongside others in suits — each making their way home.

View original story at:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

SANTO PIETRO: Editorial mischaracterized immigrants’ contributions

The members of the Latino Action Network were dismayed at the tone and misleading information in the Sept. 4 editorial “Land of (free) milk and honey.” The suggestion that immigrants are somehow getting more benefits then they deserve from safety net programs fits into the mad as hell xenophobia that Republican presidential candidates are generating to appeal to their most extreme base.

In the editorial, the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies touts its recent report based on a 2012 Census Report that twists facts to make it appear that immigrants are getting unfair benefits. It fits into the campaign rhetoric of some suggesting that deporting 11 million or more undocumented immigrants would benefit our economy. After years of debate on immigration reform, it would seem that this idea was discredited by nearly all but the most ignorant and biased Americans.

Let us look at some real facts. Start with the fact that 25 percent of New Jersey’s workforce are immigrants, according to the Census Bureau. And according to the New Jersey Department of Labor, two out of three new workers entering the workforce in this decade are Latinos, mostly from immigrant families.

According to an Eagleton Institute study, immigrant workers, mostly Asian and Latino, together contributed $47 billion to our gross domestic product in 2007, which certainly grows each year. Pew Foundation studies show that about 9.3 percent of these workers are unauthorized. Many are part of a mixed status family, which amplifies their importance. If you removed these workers, the Perryman Group estimates that it would result in a loss of $24.3 billion in expenditures and $10.7 billion in economic output. In other words, New Jersey would suffer an economic jolt that would send our state budget into a tailspin.

For 12 years, I was executive director of the Hispanic Directors Association, a coalition of Hispanic nonprofits that ran programs to help all those in need. One of the greatest frustrations was that we were not able to help unauthorized immigrants through many of our state-funded programs.

For humanitarian reasons we fought hard for the state to provide basic services to these families, such as pre-natal care through its Medicaid program and emergency charity care. I will never forget when one of our social workers found an undocumented mother hesitating to bring her child, who had ingested a household poison, to the emergency room for fear she would be deported. By the time we got them to the hospital, the child died. As far as unauthorized immigrants receiving welfare benefits, most would not even try.

Finally, the Center for Immigration Studies’ assertion that the majority of immigrants are receiving welfare benefits is simply a jumble of nonsensical numbers. First, as the numbers above show, immigrants make a major contribution to our economy. They, including many unauthorized immigrants, pay their taxes.

For the first five years, immigrants who receive green cards are not eligible for welfare assistance. Once they pass that hurdle, some, as many Americans did during the past recession, may take advantage of programs like school lunches and food stamps. When I look at the benefits that New Jersey receives from immigrants, I would argue we get a great deal. It is the kind of deal that makes me proud to be an American.

Daniel Santo Pietro is chair of public policy for the Latino Action Network.

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, August 23, 2015

WATCH: Christie says any immigrant who came 'here illegally shouldn't become a citizen'

DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Chris Christie drew a hard line on immigration while in Iowa on Saturday, telling the conservative crowd here that people who come to the United State's illegally should not be granted citizenship.

The governor and Republican presidential candidate, speaking on the famous "soap box" at the Iowa State Fair, said unauthorized immigrants should be denied legal status.

"Anyone who knowingly came here illegally shouldn't become a citizen. I just don't believe they should become a citizen," Christie said to applause and cheers from the crowd.

"I think American citizenship is an enormous gift and if you came here by breaking the law, I don't think you should get citizenship," he said. "We don't want people to be rewarded for (knowingly engaging in) illegal conduct. It doesn't make any sense to reward folks for that."

RELATED: WATCH: Pig crate protesters storm Christie's soap box stage in Iowa

The line was delivered during Christie's 20-minute back and forth with a good-sized crowd which gathered around the soap box to ask the governor their questions.

Christie's hardline on unauthorized immigrants spurred about a dozen protesters to chant "citizenship now!" for the remainder of Christie's session.

The group wasn't the only protesters angered by Christie.

Shortly after that exchange, a pair of men who opposed his veto of a controversial pig crate bill stormed the soap box stage. The men, and a woman who also jumped on stage with them, were quickly wrestled off the stage by police.

The governor arrived at the fair grounds located in Des Moines on Saturday morning. He was joined by First Lady Mary Pat Christie and the couple's four children. The governor posed for a picture with his family in front of the famed butter cow at the fair, before shaking hands with Iowans and making his way to the soap box.


Matt Arco may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewArco or on Facebook. Follow Politics on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New Jersey Latino Communities React Strongly to Trump’s Immigration Plan

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent - NJTV

“We couldn’t live back home, because of threats by gangs, poverty, lack of education,” said Li Adorno.

Adorno came to the US from Mexico with his family at age 7. He’s got an office job, goes to college but can’t get financial aid because he’s not here legally. He shudders at Republican presidential primary candidate Donald Trump’s immigration policy which would deport all undocumented immigrants — as Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd.

“We have to make a whole new set of standards. And when people come in,” said Trump.

“You’re gonna split up families?  You’re gonna deport children?,” said Todd.  

“Chuck, we have to keep the families together.” Trump said 

“But you’re gonna keep them together out,” said Todd. 

“They have to go,” Trump said.

“What if they have no place to go?,” asked Todd.  

“We will work with them. They have to go,” said Trump.

“Right, but I feel like he doesn’t fully understand like we don’t come here by choice.  We’re not here to see Disneyland. We’re here because there are better opportunities here,” said Adorno.

Trump lists more reforms on his website — complete the Mexican border wall and hike immigration fees to pay for it, raise penalties for those who over stay their visas and end birthright citizenship — the 14th Amendment, which confers citizenship automatically on anyone born in the US. 

“My parents were immigrants. If Trump got his way — I would lose my citizenship,” said Latino Action Network Vice President Christian Esteves.

Esteves says Trump would discard an entire segment of society, that his extreme views have pushed more moderate Republicans further to the right. Gov. Chris Christie now says he questions birthright citizenship.

“It’s sickening. It truly is sickening that they would take this type of bigoted, racist approach to trying to get themselves into power,” Esteves said.

“There’s the perception a Hispanic undocumented worker comes here to get on welfare — those aren’t the statistics. They aren’t the statistics.  They’re working two-three jobs and they’re sustaining the American economy,” said NJ Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Chair Carlos Medina.

“I don’t think it’s attracting Latinos. I think it’s making them feel like they’re the target of this immigration discussion,” said Louis Zayas.

But Republican attorney Zayas says Trump’s plan does have merit.

“It has some good points — namely, secure the borders. I think everyone would agree, you need to secure the borders. But how you go about doing that is the issue. I don’t think constructing a wall is the way to do it in the 21st century.  I think it’s symbolic and is catering to a certain group within the Republican party,” Zayas said.

“The way it’s set up, it’s not working. Not only for the US but also for other different countries,” said NJ Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board Member Luis De La Hoz. 

The latest Rutgers Eagleton poll says 64 percent of New Jersey residents believe undocumented immigrants who came here illegally should be allowed to stay — to seek US citizenship. Which means 64 percent of New Jerseyans don’t agree with Donald Trump on this issue. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Jerseyans Largely Support a Pathway to Citizenship, Show Increasingly Positive Views on Immigration

August 10, 2015

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As the immigration debate rages on in the race to 2016, New Jerseyans increasingly support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently working in the United States, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Sixty-four percent of residents now believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for U.S. citizenship, an increase of 12 points since last asked by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in 2012. Another 15 percent say they should be allowed to stay as temporary guest workers but not be able to apply, down seven points. Eighteen percent think they should be required to leave the country, a decline of four points.

“Last night, Donald Trump claimed no one was talking about immigration until he did, but here in New Jersey, immigration – both legal and not – has been a hot topic for years,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “In Rutgers-Eagleton polls in the past two decades, New Jerseyans have solidly supported legal status and then citizenship for immigrants. This is not surprising, given that New Jersey is one of the most diverse states and that one in five residents is an immigrant.”

The personal importance of immigration to New Jerseyans has increased over time as well: 14 percent now say it is the most important issue to them, up nine points since 2012, and another 29 percent say it is one of a few very important issues. Thirty-nine percent say it is somewhat important (down seven points), and 17 percent say it is not important to them at all (down three points).

More New Jersey residents also have a positive opinion of immigrants’ impact on everyday life today than they did in 2012.

Photo: Eldar Kamalov

But even with these increases, 41 percent say the number of immigrants in the Garden State is too high, up five points since 2012; another 44 percent say it is just right. Moreover, immigration remains a partisan issue, with notable differences between the two parties and even among Republicans, specifically among Donald Trump supporters compared to the GOP as a whole.

Results are from a statewide poll of 867 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 25 to August 1. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Importance of citizenship influenced by demographics

Immigration is an especially personal issue within certain demographics. Three-quarters of residents who identify as Hispanic support citizenship, compared to 61 percent of non-Hispanics. Similar patterns exist for those not born in the United States and those whose parents immigrated to this country.

These same groups are also more likely, by double digits, to say immigration is personally important to them: 40 percent of Hispanics, 30 percent of foreign-born residents and 21 percent of those with foreign-born parents say it is the most important issue, with the majority of each group saying the issue is at least one of a few of their top concerns.

Interaction with immigrants in daily life also has an impact: support for citizenship and personal importance increases along with frequency of interaction. Over seven in 10 who say immigrants make their neighborhood, workplace, or the state a better place also favor citizenship.

Younger generations are much more supportive of citizenship – though not more likely to say the issue is important – than older ones, as support steadily declines with age.

Importance of immigration does not necessarily imply support of citizenship, however. Among supporters, 15 percent say it is the most important issue for them, and another 25 percent say it is one of few. But those who favor deportation also feel strongly about it, with 16 percent saying immigration is their top issue and another 38 percent saying it is one of the most important.

Republicans now support citizenship, but dividing lines persist

Partisans of all stripes support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, though to varying degrees: Democrats at 78 percent, independents at 57 percent and even Republicans at 51 percent. But Republicans and independents are also more likely to say undocumented immigrants should be forced to leave the country, at 28 percent and 21 percent respectively, while just 10 percent of Democrats say the same.

Those favorable toward former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resemble Democrats in general, with 72 percent supporting citizenship. Those who like Gov. Chris Christie likewise resemble Republicans in general. But Donald Trump supporters are notably more negative about welcoming immigrants: 46 percent favor citizenship, 17 percent prefer legal status, and 35 percent choose deportation – the highest of any demographic.

“Republicans as a whole have come a long way on the issue since we last polled this in 2012, when they were mostly split over citizenship, with 37 percent expressing support and another 33 percent favoring deportation,” said Koning. “The double-digit increase to majority support in two years is remarkable. But of course, there are many different views about immigration reform on the national stage right now – especially among contenders on the Republican side like Donald Trump. And we see these differences play out when we specifically look at Trump supporters’ attitudes on citizenship, which are more conservative than the rest of the party.”

Republicans are slightly more negative regarding other aspects of the immigration issue. While there are minimal party differences in personal importance, just over half of Republicans feel the number of immigrants in the Garden State is too high, compared to 35 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents. Those in Trump’s corner are especially likely to say the number of immigrants in the state is too high, at 58 percent, compared to Christie supporters or the GOP as a whole.

Republicans are also less likely to say that immigrants have a positive impact on different parts of daily life. Nineteen percent say immigrants make their neighborhood better, compared to 39 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents. GOPers feel somewhat similarly about the workplace, with about a quarter believing immigrants make it better, versus almost four in 10 of other partisans. As for New Jersey itself, 29 percent of Republicans view immigrants’ influence positively, compared to 40 percent of independents and 49 percent of Democrats. Republicans say they interact with immigrants on a daily basis to a lesser extent than other partisans – at 52 percent, versus 59 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents.

Increased interaction and perceptions of immigrants’ positive effects

The overall increase in support for immigration and importance of the issue among New Jerseyans may stem from their frequent interaction with immigrants and their increased belief that immigrants have a positive effect on society. Six in 10 say they interact with someone from another country every day; another two in 10 say a few times a week. The remaining two in 10 interact with immigrants a few times a month or less.

Thirty-two percent feel people born outside the U.S. have made the quality of life in their neighborhoods better (up six points), while 49 percent say immigrants have not had much of an impact (down 12 points); another 13 percent say immigrants have actually made their neighborhoods worse (up three points). New Jerseyans feel similarly about their place of work, with 36 percent saying immigrants have made it better, a 10-point increase since 2012. Another 43 percent say they have had no effect here (down 11 points), and just nine percent say they have made the workplace worse.

Forty-one percent of residents believe immigrants have made New Jersey as a whole better, a nine-point increase. Twenty-nine percent say they do not have an impact on the state (down six points), and 21 percent say immigrants make the state worse, a drop of four points.

EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION POLITICAL, ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, Poll Assistant Director Ashley Koning may be contacted at 908-872-1186 (cell), 848-932-8940 (office), or Poll Director David Redlawsk may be reached at 319-400-1134 (cell) or Questions and tables are available at Find all releases here. Visit our blog at for additional commentary. Follow the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll on Facebook and Twitter @EagletonPoll.

For more Research News, click here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Coalition urges Christie to sign N.J. voting overhaul

TRENTON — A coalition of labor unions, women and minority groups, and civil rights organizations are urging Gov. Chris Christie to a sign what they call a groundbreaking piece of legislation sitting on his desk.

The Democratic-controlled state Legislature sent the "Democracy Act," a sweeping overhaul of New Jersey's voting laws, to the Republican governor last month — though Democratic leaders aren't confident he'll approve it. 

But the coalition of 35 groups sent a letter to Christie this week stressing that the measure would make it easier for more New Jersey residents to cast ballots and would bring the state's "voting practices into the 21st century."

"The right to vote is meant to be the great equalizer, but that equality only has meaning if we have equal access to the ballot box," the coalition says in the letter, according to a copy obtained by NJ Advance Media. "Unfortunately, narrow windows for participation, outdated voting practices and New Jersey's failure to take advantage of technology create unnecessary hurdles for far too many New Jerseyans and limit full participation in our democracy."

If signed by Christie, the measure (A4613) would allow for more early voting options, online voter registration, and automatic registration at the Motor Vehicle Commission. It would also require pre-election materials to be printed in more languages. 

And it would clear up New Jersey's contradictory U.S. Senate succession laws and curtail the governor's power in appointing temporary senators by requiring them to be from the same party as the person who vacated the seat.

It remains unclear whether Christie will sign the measure. During his monthly radio show in June, the governor — a Republican presidential candidate — expressed concerns about automatic voter registration.

"I don't think that people ought to be automatically registered to vote," he said. "Is it really too much to ask to ask someone to fill out a form?"
Christie also suggested the bill is an attempt by the Democratic National Committee to increase voter fraud.

"There's no question in my mind that there are some advocates of this who are looking to increase the opportunity for voter fraud," he said on the radio show. "I think there's much more politics behind this than there is democracy."
Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie's office, said Monday that "we cannot comment until (the bill has) been fully reviewed on this end, per usual on most bills."
Christie has also criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, after she called for every American to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 unless they choose not to be. She also suggested Republican-backed voter fraud prevention laws in Texas and Wisconsin curtail minority and youth voting.
Christie said in June that Clinton "doesn't know what she's talking about."
The coalition noted that it sent the letter during the week of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which Congress passed in 1965 to prohibit racial discrimination in voting across the nation.
Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families — one of the group's leading the initiative — stressed that New Jersey ranks toward the bottom of the 50 states for voter registration and participation  "thanks to outdated voting practices that don't reflect modern life, modern families or modern technology."
"How can the governor say with a straight face that he should lead the greatest democracy in the world if he won't strengthen democracy and protect voters in his own state?" Mejia asked.
Here is the full list of the 35 groups that signed the letter:
AFSCME Council 1
American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
Blue Wave NJ
Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law
Clean Water Action
Communication Workers of America District 1
Committee of Interns and Residents
Environment NJ
La Casa De Don Pedro
Latino Action Network
Laundry Distribution and Food Services, Joint Board, Workers United
League of Women Voters of New Jersey
Make the Road New Jersey
NAACP New Jersey State Chapter
National Organization of Women of New Jersey
New Jersey Black Issues Convention
New Jersey Citizen Action
New Jersey Communities United
New Jersey Education Association
New Jersey PIRG Citizens Lobby
New Jersey Progressive Democrats for America
New Jersey State Industrial Union Council
New Jersey Working Families
Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters
Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters — AFT
Save Our Schools March
Sierra Club, NJ
SEIU 1199
SEIU State Council
SEIU New Jersey State Council
Teamsters Local 469
Union of Rutgers Administrators — AFT Local 176
Wayne League of Women Voters


Brent Johnson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find Politics on Facebook.