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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Latino Action Network Joins with Over 100 Organization's to Call on Christie to Include Lead Prevention Funding in State Budget Proposal

Over 100 Organizations Call on Christie to Include Lead Prevention Funding in State Budget Proposal


TRENTON, NJ - Housing and community advocates along with parents and concerned residents, urged Governor Christie and the State Legislature to include $10 million for lead prevention in the upcoming state budget. In a letter sent to State leaders today, advocates say the number of children exposed to toxic lead warrants full funding of the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund (LHCAF).

“Thousands of New Jersey children are being exposed to lead because this administration has failed to fund even the paltry amount that is dedicated, by law, to solve our childhood lead poisoning crisis,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Network. “We are glad the governor has now said he’ll keep lead prevention in the budget if it’s a priority for our residents. More than 100 community leaders from around the state are writing to the governor and legislative leaders to make clear that protecting our children from a known, entirely preventable but permanent and devastating poison, is all of our priority.”

Created in 2004, the Lead Hazard Assistance Control Fund was created by the State of New Jersey to remediate older homes that contained lead paint. However, more than $50 million has been steered into the general treasury since 2009, instead of the LHCAF as required. State law mandates that fifty cents per gallon from the retail sale of paint must go towards the LHCAF.

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"By diverting funds for six years, Governor Christie has allowed thousands of NJ children to be needlessly poisoned by lead,” said Ann Vardeman, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action. “We hope there will be a renewed focus to take the opportunity to right a wrong and include funding for lead poisoning prevention in the budget he proposes to the Legislature on Tuesday."

Recent data from Isles, Inc. has found that children in eleven New Jersey communities have higher incidences of children affected by lead compared to Flint, MI. Those communities include Atlantic City, Irvington, Newark, East Orange, Trenton, Paterson, Plainfield, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Passaic, and Cumberland County.

“Water is not the only way children are lead poisoned,” said Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, Inc. “In NJ, our primary source of lead poisoning is chipping and peeling lead paint applied many years ago in homes that are not well maintained. The best way to prevent lead poisoning is to remove the source of lead exposure, so the lead hazard control fund is an important resource to make homes lead safe.”

In executing weatherization for energy conservation measures, we encounter lead in many of the older homes throughout Metro Newark,” said Raymond Ocasio, executive director of La Casa de Don Pedro. “The program funding and the applicable health and safety standards allow us to only remediate a limited portion of the lead contamination conditions that families might face. For instance we might only replacing windows with lead using lead safety measures.  However, more often than not, lead still remains in other areas of the home because program constraints prevent us from addressing them.

In the letter to state leaders, advocates also urged support for legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer) that would enable municipalities to inspect one and two bedroom family rentals for lead. Combined, with the LHCAF, the two measures would expand prevention efforts in New Jersey.

“The communities in which childhood lead levels rival those in Flint are home to thousands of Latino families.  Lead poisoning is an epidemic for Latino children and their parents in these neighborhoods,” said Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network. “We need the Governor and our elected officials to ensure that all of our children are protected from lead poisoning and that our communities have the resources to address this crisis.”

 “Access to homes that are safe and affordable for families, especially in our urban areas, has always been part of the fight for civil rights,” said Richard T. Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “Funding for lead prevention helps ensure that African-American kids can grow up without the threat of toxic poisoning from their own homes.  There is no greater priority than the healthy future of our children.”

"The job of keeping these children safe is a responsibility that lies on all of us – not on the thousands of mothers whom I know would do ANYTHING in their power to keep their kids safe,” said Serena Rice, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey. “But the tragic reality is that it’s not in their power. They need our help.”

To view the letter and for more information on the Lead Hazard Assistance Control Fund including data from Isles, Inc., visit

About the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ
The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is the statewide association of more than 250 community development corporations, individuals and other organizations that support the creation of affordable homes, economic opportunities, and strong communities. 

For more information on the Network, visit

Monday, February 15, 2016

Latino Action Network Endorses Nomination of Emilia Perez to Trenton Municipal Court

For Immediate Release: February 16, 2016


Christian Estevez – 973-418-7012

Lazaro Cardenas – 732-500-7864


The Latino Action Network [LAN] today endorsed the nomination of attorney Emilia Perez to the Trenton Municipal Court.  Perez is not only competent and respected among the legal community but will alsoallow Trenton’s Municipal court to better reflect the residents it serves.


Perez who is a graduate of Seton Hall Law and a former Judicial law clerk for the Honorable Bradley J. Ferencz has been nominated byTrenton’s Mayor Eric Jackson, to the position of Municipal Judge.  Perez has served since 2008 as Assistant Corporation Counsel,and since 2012 as Assistant Municipal Prosecutor for the City of Newark.


“We commend Mayor Eric Jackson for nominating a qualified Latina to serve as a municipal judge in Trenton. The state's Capital has a population that is over 30% Latino, yet has not had a Latino judge serving on the bench for a very long time,” said Latino Action Network President, Christian Estevez. “However, the nomination of Emilia Perez helps insure that those applying and interpreting the laws also represent the community’s racial and ethnic diversity.”


Estevez urged the Trenton City Council to promptly vote to confirm Perez saying, "The appointment of Emilia Perez is a step in the right direction toward alleviating the severe underrepresentation of Latinos at all levels of New Jersey's judiciary." He added that, "The Latino Action Network will continue its efforts to remedy this lack of Latino judges, an ethnic group which represents almost one-fifth of the state’s residents.”


The Latino Action Network was founded in 2009 to fight for political empowerment and defend civil rights.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 Annual LAN Legislative Conference

2016 LAN Legislative Conference

You are cordially invited to the Latino Action Network’s Annual Legislative Conference. The conference will take place on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at the Robert Treat Hotel Conference Center in Newark, New Jersey.

The event will include a full program, with keynote presentations and dynamic workshops with panels discussing a full array of issues of great importance to New Jersey's Latino community.

Breakout panels will cover the following subjects:

  • Immigrant Rights
  • Education
  • Health Care
  • Affordable Housing
  • Workers’ Rights
  • Voting Rights
  • Criminal Justice Reform
  • Political Involvement
  • Latino Youth Activism 
  • Environmental Justice

We expect an audience of over 200 persons, including Latino elected officials, civic and community leaders interested in developing a shared vision for New Jersey.

This Legislative Conference is hosted by the Latino Action Network (LAN) in collaboration with The Latino Institute, Inc., a private, non-profit, charitable organization, and the Latino Coalition, a member organization of the LAN.

Please click in HERE to register for the LAN Legislative Conference or go to:

You can also contact Carmen Torres at 973-273-0273 or via email at if you have any questions about the program.

We are looking forward to presence, as we work together to benefit the Latino community.

New Jersey municipalities say black and Latino families, people with disabilities don't exist in new housing report

Civil rights leaders call for wealthy municipalities to stop pretending working poor don't exist
CHERRY HILL - Civil rights leaders are fighting back against a new  report commissioned by more than 200 towns across New Jersey that undercounts the pressing housing needs of low-income families, people with disabilities, and people of color. These towns are pursuing policies of exclusion while simultaneously attempting to hide a second publicly funded study that apparently shows far greater housing needs.

Towns, in the report they chose to release, relied on demonstrably false assumptions and legal trickery to make tens of thousands of working families, seniors and those with disabilities disappear. Their approach would disproportionately impact African-Americans and Latinos living in one of the nation's most segregated states.

"We have to name exclusion for what it is," said Mike McNeil, Housing Chairman of the New Jersey NAACP. "These mayors believe in Jim Crow. They're like Governor Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door against integration. These mayors are overwhelmingly standing on their borders saying people of color aren't welcome in their neighborhoods. We have been fighting this mindset since the 1960s. As long as there is racism and as long as there are people who want to keep us out, we'll keep on fighting.  One day we will win this fight."

McNeil was joined by Latino Action Network President Frank Argote-Freyre, who called on the state's judges to protect the constitutional rights of New Jerseyans by holding towns accountable to New Jersey's fair housing laws.

"This report is an attack on the civil rights of tens of thousands of Latino and African-American families," Argote-Freyre said. "If mayors across New Jersey refuse to do the right thing, we are going to have to force them to through the courts. New Jersey can be better than this and is better than this - but it is going to take continued work to overcome their discrimination."

This housing study is the latest in a long series of attempts by municipal officials to disregard the orders of the New Jersey Supreme Court and to evade the Mount Laurel Doctrine, the principle embedded in the state Constitution requiring that municipalities do their fair share to provide affordable housing opportunities to New Jersey families.

Municipal officials are also trying to hide an earlier housing study conducted by Rutgers University. Although Rutgers distributed a report to more than 200 municipalities, these towns are now going to court to fight against that report becoming public - likely because the report shows that the actual need for homes is greater than municipalities want to admit.

After stopping work with Rutgers, municipalities hired Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions Inc. to come up with an alternative report, which is now being released as part of ongoing litigation involving municipal housing responsibilities.

The report differs strongly with a study by noted planner Dr. David N. Kinsey released in July, which found that New Jersey families need more than 200,000 additional affordable homes to combat the growing pressures of high property values, an ongoing mortgage foreclosure crisis and the effects of Superstorm Sandy and a wave of casino closings that have left thousands jobless. This would meet the state's housing need from 1999 through 2025.

By contrast, this report, commissioned by a consortium of 200 towns that have banded together to fight inclusion, found that New Jersey families needed only 36,494 units of housing over the same 25-year period. Towns are hoping to use this report to water down their obligations in a series of fair housing lawsuits taking place throughout the state that provide a once in a generation opportunity for New Jersey families waiting for quality affordable homes.

"This report is the newest statement from wealthy towns that they want to exclude people who aren't wealthy.  They want to keep school kids out, too," Fair Share Housing Center Executive Director Kevin Walsh said. "This is why homes in New Jersey cost so much.  If you don't drive a BMW or Mercedes, you're not welcome in much of New Jersey.  If your house doesn't have granite countertops, you're not welcome.  We have laws to stop this sort of discrimination, and we are hoping judges will identify what the towns have submitted for what it is."

The report relies on a series of gimmicks to effectively pretend that tens of thousands of working families, seniors and those with disabilities don't exist as a way of artificially reducing housing need.
First, it argues that New Jersey municipalities shouldn't have to meet the state's housing need from 1999 through 2015 - a time when political gridlock in Trenton kept the state's housing laws from functioning properly. This flies in the face of the law and contradicts arguments that the New Jersey League of Municipalities made in an earlier court case, when attorneys for the League confirmed that municipal need for that period of time could not be made to disappear.

"This proposal is so absurd, even the state League of Municipalities rejected that approach in court years ago," Walsh said. "The report flies in the face of common sense. Anyone who has ever been to New Jersey knows that families need help now. That need didn't disappear just because of political gridlock in Trenton. Towns are talking out of both sides of their mouth, proving that some municipal officials will go to any lengths to continue excluding New Jersey families."

Econsult's latest report directly contradicts an earlier housing study the firm performed for the state Council on Affordable Housing in 2008, which found a statewide need of 116,000 homes, and found that the housing need that accumulated up to that point did not disappear.

The report also proposes a statewide need that is significantly less than what was established in previous fair housing rounds. The Council on Affordable Housing, for instance, determined that the state's need from 1987 through 1999 was approximately 85,000 homes. It beggars belief that municipalities are now arguing that New Jersey has a need less than half of that over a 25-year period.

In addition to this report, the state League of Municipalities is proposing a dramatic rewrite of New Jersey's housing policies to exclude the very poorest New Jerseyans - those making under 20 percent of the regional area median income - from housing.

This approach would also violate state law and was first proposed by Econsult in an earlier report for the League. It was rejected by the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey because it would disproportionately disenfranchise people with physical and mental disabilities - many of whom rely on government help and report very little income.

"Towns are engaged in a more sophisticated form of discrimination - in which they got experts to say black and Latino families and people with disabilities don't exist," Walsh said. "Municipal leaders want to ignore these people because they think they're just not worth caring about."

Click here to read a copy of the Econsult report.

Click here to read a copy of the Appellate Division case in which the League of Municipalities argued that housing need could not disappear.

Friday, November 13, 2015

For safety of all motorists, N.J. provide licenses for undocumented drivers | Opinion |

For safety of all motorists, N.J. provide licenses for undocumented drivers | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist 
on November 13, 2015 at 6:30 PM, updated November 13, 2015 at 6:32 PM

By Joseph Cryan

If we told you that there were tens of thousands of drivers on New Jersey's roads driving without a license, you might not be surprised. But if we told you that the laws of the state are actually designed to put these folks on the road without being properly tested, licensed and insured, you'd probably be shocked and angry – and hopeful that our state leaders would fix this public-safety problem. 

Many of the individuals you see every day in your neighborhood and community are driving without a license just to complete daily tasks necessary for the well-being of their families. These New Jerseyans are raising families and working hard in the state. 
But ensuring all New Jersey drivers are licensed doesn't just benefit New Jerseyans who can't prove legal status – it benefits all of us who share the state's roads with them every day. 

Over half a million people in New Jersey are undocumented immigrants. That means about 1 in every 20 people here lack proper documentation, due to a lack of progress on comprehensive immigration reform. But it is plain silly – and unsafe – to allow Washington to prevent Trenton from taking an approach to immigration that properly reflects our state's reality. 

We are encouraged to say that 18 mayors have approved resolutions to create safer roads for everyone and hold them accountable for their driving record, and more will join the list of supporters. In May, Union County became the first county in the state to pass a resolution in support of allowing all New Jerseyans – regardless of citizenship status – to apply for a special license. Hudson County soon followed. But the state must take the ultimate step of making this pragmatic policy a reality. 

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union) is leading the efforts in Trenton to create a common-sense solution. She has introduced a bill creating a limited New Jersey license that would allow people to drive legally and verify their identity. This bill is aimed at letting residents drive. It would not to be valid to board an airplane, apply for government benefits or work in the U.S. legally. With this license, New Jersey will still uphold our federal laws while taking a step towards greater public safety – in fact, the Department of Homeland Security has approved a similar license in California. 

New Jersey could join twelve states and the District of Columbia in passing similar legislation to allow undocumented residents the opportunity to be tested, trained, licensed and insured. New Mexico, Washington and Utah – states with the longest implementation of similar laws – have seen a reduction in accidents that involved unlicensed drivers. In addition, Utah has seen undocumented immigrants get insurance almost at the same rate as those with regular licenses. 

Allowing access to apply for this limited license could lead to more New Jerseyans to interact and cooperate with law enforcement, such as reporting crimes they witness or are victims of. This, in turn, will make our communities safer. 

One of the first procedures when we stop someone in the road is to establish identity. If the person lacks a valid driver's license we are not able to determine a person's driving record and thus a person may not be held accountable for their driving record. This policy will also allow all of us in law enforcement to focus on more serious public-safety manners instead of taking hours to establish who someone is.

Our state should be open to having over a half a million people living in the state come forward, go through the proper channels, pass a driving test, get insurance coverage, register their car and drive safely. The state of New Jersey can't deport half a million people, we can't arrest them all, we can't separate thousands of families, but we can help make sure that everyone who is on our roads is driving legally and safely. 

Joseph Cryan is Union County Sheriff and a former member of the New Jersey Assembly.

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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.

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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