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.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Governor Murphy Signs Driver’s License Bill into Law

Governor Murphy Signs Driver’s License Bill into Law
Culmination of a 15-Year Struggle

LAN President Emeritus Frank Argote-Freyre receiving pen from Governor Phil Murphy during Bill Signing Ceremony.

Governor Phil Murphy today signed the law permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, the culmination of a 15-year advocacy campaign by the Latino activist organizations across New Jersey.

“Since the founding of the Latino Action Network in 2009, this has been our number one legislative priority,” said Christian Estevez, President of LAN. “Governor Murphy’s signing of this bill is a landmark moment for our community and the entire state of New Jersey. It makes our state a more humane and safer place to live. The coming together of a wide range of constituencies made this possible. It challenges the tone of intolerance set by President Trump at the national level.”

Estevez noted that the list of allies both in government and on the activist side that helped make it possible is long. In addition to Governor Murphy, key allies were Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, and State Senators Teresa Ruiz, Nellie Pou, Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Ron Rice and Nia Gill. Key allies in the African American community included NAACP NJ State Conference President Richard Smith, Charles Boyer, leader of Salvation and Social Justice and Eric Dobson of the Fair Share Housing Center.

Frank Argote-Freyre, President Emeritus of LAN and a professor of Latin American history at Kean University made the following statement: “This is a historic moment for the Latino community of New Jersey. It is a moment when the organizing power of the community reached a new level. I am confident it will be seen as a turning point in the struggle for self-empowerment by generations to come. We are fortunate at this time to have a Governor willing to show courage in the face of unrelenting attacks on the immigrant community by a shameless President. His support for our community will be long remembered.”

The Latino Action Network is a broad, statewide coalition of Latino organizations dedicated to political empowerment, the promotion of civil rights, and the elimination of disparities in the areas of education, health, and employment. It was founded in 2009.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

2020 LAN Legislative Conference

Join the Latino Action Network Legislative Conference to celebrate a decade of advocacy. This will be a conference to remember!

About this Event:

The LAN Legislative Conference is the largest gathering of Latino community organizers and public policy advocates in the State of New Jersey. Last year's conference was attended by over 350 activists from every corner of the state. The conference will include a full program, with keynote presentations and dynamic workshops with panels discussing a full array of issues in accordance with our Legislative Agenda for 2020.

Register here for free! 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Governor Murphy Strengthens Expungement Reforms and Provides for Pathway to Automatic Expungement


Governor’s Conditional Veto Also Requires Sealing of Marijuana Offenses and Allows for “Clean Slate” Expungements for Those Who Have Clean Records for Ten Years

TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today conditionally vetoed Senate Bill No. 3205, which would institute several major reforms to the State’s expungement law and allow individuals convicted of certain offenses to petition a court to remove information about those offenses from their criminal records. As described in more detail below, the Governor’s recommendations require the creation of a system for automatic expungements for those with clean records for at least ten years, and allow for judicial sealing of low-level marijuana offenses, ensuring that individuals cannot have those convictions used against them in the future.

“I applaud the sponsors’ commitment to social justice, and their efforts to correct historic wrongs inflicted on our communities by a criminal justice system that has at times unfairly, and harshly punished individuals,” said Governor Murphy. “Providing relief for those who have served their time, and lifting the constraints placed on them from finding meaningful work, and providing for their families following a conviction and time served is a priority that I share with legislative leaders and advocates.”

“However, I believe this bill can go further for the cause of justice, and I am hopeful that we can move forward together with a bill that provides a path to automatic expungement and allows for relief for those convicted for those convicted of low-level marijuana offenses,” Governor Murphy continued. “I will continue to work with the Legislature build a more complete system of expungements, so that more New Jerseyans are given a second chance and can better reintegrate into our society.”

Clean Slate Expungement System

The Governor’s changes would require the State to implement an “automated clean slate expungement system” – an automatic system of expungements for individuals convicted of multiple crimes who have had a clean record for at least ten years, obviating the need for an attorney or the need to engage in a paperwork heavy administrative process. In order to meet the bill’s implementation requirement, the Governor’s changes establish a task force to study the technological, fiscal, resource and practical issues and challenges involved in developing such a system, and to provide recommendations on how to create the system.

As an interim measure to help those who have had clean records for at least a decade, the Governor’s changes recommend that a clean slate petition process be available for the limited period between the bill’s effective date and the implementation of an automated clean slate expungement system.  The bill calls for a $15 million supplemental appropriation to the Department of Law and Public Safety to support its processing of clean slate expungement petitions. 

Marijuana and Hashish Convictions

As passed, S3205 establishes an expedited expungement process for certain minor marijuana, hashish, and paraphernalia convictions. While laudable for its social justice aims, such a process may have the unintended and unfair effect of delaying the review of standard expungement petitions. The Governor’s changes therefore suggest having the court immediately seal an individual’s record upon the disposition of charges for possession or distribution of a small amount of marijuana or hashish or related drug paraphernalia.  Further, the Governor’s change would ensure that the sealed marijuana or hashish convictions cannot not be used for sentencing purposes in any other case.  This process provides relief while avoiding delays.

Changes to Existing Expungement Procedures

The Governor’s changes would require the State to establish an electronic expungement filing system that would streamline expungement processing, eliminate filing fees to petition for an expungement, and eliminate the current expensive requirement on individuals to send notices of the petition to various law enforcement agencies. These changes would lift the financial and time-consuming burden on individuals seeking relief.

The Governor’s changes also recommend incorporating amendments suggested by the Administrative Office of the Courts, which address technical and procedural issues identified by the Judicial Branch, which is responsible for conducting the expungement petition filing and hearing process.  The Governor’s changes suggest modifications from the Department of Treasury that are designed to facilitate the collection of fines in response to changes in the bill that shift responsibility from the courts to the Department. 

Advocates expressed their support for the Governor’s conditional veto.

“The NAACP has been involved in the cannabis conversation solely because of its connection to civil rights,” said Richard T. Smith, President of the NAACP New Jersey State Chapter. “We believe that the wrongs committed by the war on drugs and its agents can not begin to be repaired until people can have their lives back from senseless low-level marijuana offenses. We are glad to see the Governor's office conditionally veto this bill in hopes of making it stronger and the language clearer. The NAACP looks forward to working with the Governor's office to ensure that everyone will have open access to free and expedited expungement."

“This is a major step towards the restoration of thousands of lives,” said Reverend Charles Boyer. “Governor Murphy continues to show his commitment to unravel a punitive system disproportionately inflicted upon people of color. This is robust; this is a commitment; this is real.”
"On behalf of the Latino Acton Network we celebrate not only this legislation but also Governor Murphy’s conditional veto that adds automatic expungement for individuals who have had stayed crime and conviction free for ten years or more," said Cuqui Rivera, Criminal Justice Reform Chair at the Latino Action Network. “The stigma surrounding a criminal record is debilitating in so many aspects of one’s journey that to rebuild their lives after time served is virtually beyond possible. As advocates in criminal justice reform for the last 2 decades, we have worked long and hard on this very legislation. Thank you to ALL in the legislature, the administration and the advocate community who have worked so hard to realize this victory. It takes the Village. 

“Governor Murphy's conditional veto puts our state on the path to ensure that New Jerseyans burdened with criminal convictions – disproportionately people of color – will no longer need to navigate an onerous legal system to obtain the well-documented benefits of expungement," said Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. "Instead, they will be able to expunge their records as soon as they become eligible. In the coming months, the ACLU-NJ will work hard to guarantee that the task force created by the CV provides recommendations, and that the Legislature takes up legislation, to create a fairer and more efficient system for expungements."

Read the conditional veto here.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Governor Murphy Signs Resolution Designating “Puerto Rico Day” in New Jersey

TRENTON 08/15/2019 - Governor Phil Murphy today signed SJR129, designating the third Sunday of September of each year as “Puerto Rico Day” in New Jersey. New Jersey is home to the third-largest Puerto Rican population in the continental United States.

“This resolution recognizes the many contributions that Puerto Ricans and those of Puerto Rican heritage have contributed to our state,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Puerto Ricans are our teachers, our doctors, our small business owners, and our U.S. Supreme Court justices. The third Sunday of this September and every September from now on will be dedicated to the nearly 500,000 Puerto Ricans living in New Jersey and to the countless contributions they make to our state and nation.”

Primary sponsors of the resolution include Senators M. Teresa Ruiz, Nellie Pou, and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, and Assembly members Eliana Pintor Marin, Shanique Speight, and Yvonne Lopez.

“Designating the third Sunday of September of each year as Puerto Rico Day in New Jersey signifies the unique relationship between the Garden State and the island of Puerto Rico,” said Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz. “It is a chance to celebrate the Puerto Rican people, language and culture and their many contributions to the state of New Jersey. As the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the Senate, it is an honor to have put forth legislation that continues to highlight one of our greatest assets in the state, our diversity.”

“Puerto Ricans have long been one of our states largest minority populations. We have helped build, create and lead New Jersey in immeasurable ways,” said Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez. “It’s only right that our state acknowledges these efforts and contributions from a community that has given so much throughout our long and storied history. I look forward to celebrating with everyone next month for New Jersey’s first Puerto Rican Day.”

“New Jersey truly is a melting pot of various cultures and that diversity is what makes our state great,” said Senator Nellie Pou. “Our state has one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the country and as a proud Puerto Rican, I am glad to have had the opportunity to sponsor legislation that recognizes and celebrates a community whose influence on New Jersey has undeniably shaped the great state we have today.”

“The Puerto Rican Community has long contributed to the diversity present in New Jersey. Puerto Ricans, who comprise more than 5 percent of the state’s total population, and growing, continue to play a major role in all aspects of New Jersey’s cultural, social, political and economic life, said Assembly bill sponsors in a joint statement.

“Puerto Ricans and their descendants continue to be present and active throughout New Jersey communities. From the first Puerto Ricans who arrived at Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, NJ during the First World War to Borinqueneer Veterans who were Presidential Gold Medal Recipients of the Korean War, Puerto Ricans have made significant contributions to the Garden State and the nation.” the sponsors continued. “The State of New Jersey and Puerto Rico also continue to have a strong sense of shared community, perhaps best evidenced recently in the immediate and generous action taken by New Jersey residents to offer assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  “Formally designating an annual Puerto Rico Day acknowledges the meaningful relationship between Puerto Rico and New Jersey and serves to encourage residents to celebrate the people, language and culture of Puerto Rico.”

“We are deeply gratified to know that Governor Murphy continues to stand with the people of Puerto Rico,” said Bishop Joshua Rodriguez, Chair of the New Jersey Commission on Puerto Rico Relief. “As an inclusive leader, he has been instrumental in Puerto Rico’s healing process since Hurricanes Irma and Maria and continues to support the rebuilding of our precious island, Borinquén, as well as ensuring that the state of New Jersey provides vital services and recovery assistance to Puerto Ricans who have relocated across the region since the devastating Hurricanes.”

“As the first Miss Puerto Rico of the Statewide Parade of New Jersey, I am thankful that our Puerto Rican community is being honored with SJR129. I want to thank the Legislators and the Governor for making the third Sunday in September of each year as "Puerto Rican Day" in New Jersey,” said Peggy Anastos, Vice-Chair of the New Jersey Commission on Puerto Rico Relief.  “My Puerto Rican Brothers and sisters here and in Puerto Rico should be treated equally as all other American Citizens in the Country.  This bill will remind people that we are the largest of any Latino group in New Jersey. Puerto Ricans have seen our island go through many difficulties in the past years.  Celebrating our culture and love for our music and people is important.  thank you again Governor Murphy and Senator Pou, Senator Ruiz, Senator Nilsa Cruz Perez, Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marín and Assemblywoman Shanique Speight.”

“The designation of the third Sunday of every September as “Puerto Rico Day” is another indication of Governor Murphy’s inclusive agenda and his desire to recognize every community in this beautifully diverse state. Puerto Ricans have been civil rights pioneers in New Jersey and across the nation,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, Chair of the Latino Action Network Foundation. “They were the founders of many of the community organizations in New Jersey that now serve hundreds of thousands of needy individuals of all backgrounds.”

The history of Puerto Ricans in New Jersey is one that spans well over a half-century and encompasses a series of social, cultural and political accomplishments by the community throughout this time.  By declaring the third Sunday of every September, as "Puerto Rican Day", Governor Murphy does not only recognize these past achievements but also reaffirms the important role that Puerto Ricans will have on the future success of the Garden State,” said David Ortiz, Sr., Puerto Rican Community Leader. “I would like to thank the Governor for bestowing such an honor to all Puerto Ricans who call New Jersey their home. It will be well received and highly appreciated by our community for many years to come."

"The island of Puerto Rico has endured some of the most horrendous challenges of its time from natural catastrophes, to the recent ousting of Governor Rosello and more. The Latino Action Network (LAN) has been directly on the ground in several relief and rebuild missions since Hurricane Maria and knows firsthand the turmoil related to these challenges,” said Cuqui Rivera, Executive Secretary of the Latino Action Network. “Governor Murphy you again stand up and with our Latino community in recognition of our New Jersey Puerto Rican constituents. Your gesture of love and support through this legislation is appreciated and applauded…  Gracias!!"

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Governor Murphy Signs Legislation to Restrict the Use of Isolated Confinement in New Jersey’s Correctional Facilities

TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today signed A314 into law, which restricts the use of isolated confinement in New Jersey’s correctional facilities. The legislation codifies into law certain existing New Jersey Department of Corrections policies, places limits on the use of long-term isolated confinement, and restricts the use of isolated confinement on vulnerable populations.

“By signing this historic legislation, we are furthering our commitment to the continued transformation of our criminal justice system and ensuring it reflects New Jersey’s core values of safety, dignity, and fairness,” said Governor Murphy. “I am proud to stand together with New Jersey’s criminal justice reform advocates and legislators to advance a humane correctional system that allows for the safe operation of facilities and focuses on strengthening reentry initiatives, substance use disorder treatment, and recovery programs.” 

“This bill will codify certain existing New Jersey Department of Corrections policies into law and prevent isolated confinement from wrongful overuse in the state of New Jersey by future Administrations,” said New Jersey Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks. “The Department of Corrections strives to rehabilitate the offender population and prepare them for success. Limiting the overuse of isolated confinement will further assist the Department in achieving this goal.”

The bill prohibits inmates incarcerated or detained in correctional facilities from being placed in isolated confinement unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the inmate or others would be at substantial risk of serious harm as evidenced by recent threats or conduct, and that any less restrictive intervention would be insufficient to reduce that risk, subject to certain limited exceptions. Furthermore, members of vulnerable populations, including individuals under 21 and over 65, individuals with disabilities, pregnant women, and LGBTQ individuals, are prohibited from being placed in isolated confinement except in rare, specified circumstances. The bill further provides that no inmate is to be placed in isolated confinement for more than 20 consecutive days, or for more than 30 days during any 60-day period.

Primary sponsors of the legislation include Senators Nellie Pou and Sandra Cunningham, and Assembly members Nancy Pinkin, Shavonda E. Sumter, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle.“The excess use of isolated confinement has led to severe consequences for the physical and mental health of incarcerated men and women,” said Senator Pou. “When this country was founded, we vowed that Americans would be free from the fear of cruel and unusual punishment. Unregulated isolated confinement does not meet that standard and I am proud that today, in New Jersey, we will be treating incarcerated people with the dignity they deserve."

“Our state holds over 5 percent of its detainees in solitary confinement, despite extensive evidence that is causes lasting mental health damage,” said Senator Cunningham. “Using it with the regularity that we do is not only unnecessary but unjust. Unless a person is of clear and present danger to those around them, they should not be placed in isolated confinement. This legislation is long overdue and I am grateful to see it signed into law.”

“There is significant proof that solitary confinement can have a severe, long-term negative impact on an inmate’s mental health,” said Assemblywoman Pinkin. “The overuse of isolation in New Jersey’s correctional facilities can cause irreparable psychological damage that affects people while they are in prison and detracts from former inmates’ ability to make positive contributions to their communities thereafter.”

“In addition to this being a moral issue, it’s also a serious health care concern. Solitary confinement very often is associated with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide,” said Assemblywoman Sumter, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Hackensack UMC Mountainside Hospital. “This is a method that should be employed as a last resort, only in extreme cases, and with extreme care. A convict may have committed a crime, but he or she is still a human being and deserves to be treated as such.”

“For children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities, the effects of solitary confinement – which can have a damaging effect on anyone – are downright devastating,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. “As New Jersey works to reform its criminal justice system by prohibiting the arbitrary overuse of solitary confinement, it’s important that we emphasize protecting members of these vulnerable populations.”

“I am extremely encouraged by Governor Murphy’s historic move to restrict the use of isolated confinement in New Jersey’s prisons,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, Pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury and the founder of Salvation and Social Justice. “This is one of the most compassionate, progressive, and morally just solitary laws in the nation.”

“The voices of survivors of solitary confinement, and their strength in summoning up some of the worst moments of their lives to stop the routine use of prolonged isolation, have been the moral ballast responsible for making these historic restrictions law,” said J. Amos Caley, Lead Organizer of the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and Associate Pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park. “The power of this movement – led by survivors who have refused to stand by while others experience the agony of prolonged isolation – can serve as a guide for others around the nation to act on the imperative of ending long-term solitary confinement.”

“The agony of solitary confinement is that it doesn’t just lock up your body – it locks in your mind,” said Nafeesah Goldsmith, a community organizer and a survivor of solitary confinement. “For New Jersey to institute dramatic restrictions on solitary acknowledges the suffering we’ve endured, along with the scars we’ll bear for the rest of our lives. I’ve said before that solitary confinement is pure evil, incapable of resulting in anything but dehumanization and degradation – but as of today, I can point to one very small exception: all that I went through strengthened my voice to bring us closer to the goal of ending this diabolical practice once and for all.”

“I am glad to see that the Governor has signed this important piece of legislation,” said Lawrence Hamm, Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress. “It is a necessary step in the overall effort to reform the criminal justice system. The United Nations has recognized solitary confinement as a violation of human rights. This bill, which would restrict the use of solitary confinement, is a step in the right direction. I thank the Governor for signing this bill.”

"The signing of this legislation brings the U.S. closer to international standards. To deprive people of natural light, exercise, and meaningful human contact unnecessarily and for prolonged periods of time is inhumane," said Justin Mazzola, Researcher at Amnesty International USA. "Solitary confinement should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for as short a period as possible – we need more policies that reflect that."

“Prolonged isolation is cruel, undermines human dignity, and has profound, lifelong consequences,” said Laura Pitter, Deputy Director, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch. “By passing this law, New Jersey has acknowledged this fact, severely limited this horrendous practice, and furthered an important human rights standard.”

“This is another historic and enormous step forward, again, towards criminal justice reform for New Jersey,” said Cuqui Rivera, Criminal Justice Reform Chair of the Latino Action Network. “Solitary confinement is a practice that has further broken human beings already struggling with the realities and anguish of incarceration, most, who do return to our communities. This is a torturous practice that the former Administration would not even acknowledge. We applaud the Governor’s reserve in keeping his word in his signature of this legislation. In this moment in our country, watching the unbearable madness of child concentration camps ripping families apart, at least in New Jersey, we say no to torture. We stand ready to work now further towards its implementation. Thank you, Governor Murphy.”

“This law is a testament to its driving force: the voices of survivors of solitary confinement who led this movement to stop the suffering they were forced to endure,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “No law can make up for the lives that have been lost – no policy can reclaim the futures that have been sacrificed to the torment of prolonged solitary confinement – but this law acknowledges that no one deserves to forfeit their humanity in long-term isolation. This turning point for New Jersey is a milestone in a powerful, unyielding national movement. We know New Jersey’s historic step forward will inspire advocates and lawmakers throughout the country to make prolonged solitary confinement a thing of the past. We applaud Governor Murphy and the Legislature for prioritizing humanity by passing and signing this bill into law.” 

“We applaud the Governor for signing the solitary confinement bill,” Richard Smith, President, New Jersey State NAACP. “We believe that, on issues related to social and economic justice, the Governor sees these issues through the lens of a former national NAACP Board member. We look forward to continuing to work with him as we transform the criminal justice system and address centuries-old problems.” 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Latino Action Network Urges New Jersey Follow New York and Pass Driver’s Licenses Bill

NEWARK-The Latino Action Network (LAN) President Christian Estevez called on the New Jersey Legislature to follow the example set by New York Monday and pass a bill granting undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses.

"On Monday, New York made access to drivers licenses for our immigrant brothers and sisters the law of the land. Now it's time for New Jersey to stand up and act,” said Estevez.

Our communities deserve justice: every week that passes, more families are separated. Plus, our state loses hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential revenue.

“To our legislators who condemn Trump's inhumane separation of families: we need you to use your power to ensure no family fears deportation when they drop their kids off at school or drive to work. On behalf of the 1.8 million Latinos in NJ, we call upon our state’s elected leaders, to pass S3229/A4743 without delay,” said Estevez.

LAN is a broad, statewide coalition of Latino organizations dedicated to political empowerment, the promotion of civil rights, and the elimination of disparities in the areas of education, health, and employment. It was founded in 2009.

Monday, April 29, 2019

2020 census concerns in Camden — where ‘thousands’ avoided 2010 count — reflect worries nationwide

(LAN’s Jesselly De La Cruz was quoted in this article, which originally appeared on, on the 2020 Census and the importance of counting everyone)
Protesters in DC
Protestors at the Supreme Court in Washington

Camden’s population a decade ago was 77,344, according to the 2010 census. But Mayor Francisco Moran knows that wasn’t right.

"I can tell you there are thousands of folks who have not allowed themselves to be counted,” he said at a forum Wednesday night in Camden, where local residents and statewide nonprofit groups expressed concerns about the census, which begins next March.

Communities across the country are working to make sure all their residents are counted, since population determines how the federal government distributes hundreds of billions of dollars to local governments, how voting districts are drawn, and how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House.

Local governments have formed commissions to explain the importance of filling out questionnaires and reach populations that are traditionally undercounted.

At the New Jersey Complete Count Commission’s last scheduled meeting of the year Wednesday, residents raised questions that echoed concerns expressed throughout the country. They included:

What role will the proposed citizenship question play?

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments as it decides whether the 2020 census can ask for residents’ citizenship status. The court’s conservative majority seemed willing to defer to the Trump administration’s plan to do so.

Dozens of state and local governments and the Census Bureau believe the citizenship question could deter millions of people, especially immigrants, from answering the questionnaires. That would depress population counts and diminish the political power and funding of local governments, particularly those with large immigrant populations.

Federal judges in Maryland, California, and New York — where Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Philadelphia joined others in suing the Trump administration — have ruled against the addition of the question.

The Trump administration argues that the question is necessary to know how many residents are citizens.

Jesselly De La Cruz, executive director of the Latino Action Network Foundation, asked that state and local governments focus on earning the confidence of communities shaken by the prospect of the citizenship question. The Census Bureau has emphasized that federal law prohibits it from sharing personal information it collects.

Local governments are recruiting “trusted community leaders” to persuade residents to fill out census forms.

Regardless of whether the question shows up on forms next year, Census Bureau employees have said damage already has been done in terms of creating a climate of mistrust around the census.

Will the resources be available?

Peter Chen, policy counsel at Newark, N.J.-based Advocates for Children of New Jersey, noted that other states have already distributed millions of dollars to nonprofits for census outreach in their communities. He urged New Jersey to quickly get money to organizations.

"This is going to require an enormous effort,” Chen said.

Two bills introduced in the Senate and Assembly in February ask for $9 million for New Jersey groups to help get residents counted.

How will the Census Bureau reach hard-to-count communities?

Each decennial census undercounts certain populations, such as young children whom adults may not think to include, people who move often, people who are homeless, people living in poverty, and racial and ethnic minorities.

Governments across the country have been working on strategies to persuade hard-to-count populations to fill out their questionnaires. Those plans include working with faith and community leaders, translating information into many languages, collaborating with schools to teach students and parents about the census, and opening census offices in areas where participation in the past was low.

For example, in one census tract in Camden, less than one-third of residents filled out their forms in 2010. So they’re getting special attention.

Moran, Camden’s mayor, said an accurate count in Camden “is paramount to us.”

"The strain on services in the city is tough for us when we have limited resources,” he said.

Who will do the counting?

The Census Bureau plans to hire from 400,000 to 450,000 census takers to follow up with people who do not fill out their questionnaires.

Cheryl Bolden, a supervisory partnership specialist for the Census Bureau, reassured New Jersey Complete Count commissioners and residents that the bureau is hiring people to work in their own neighborhoods for these positions.

"We are totally and completely dependent upon local involvement,” she said.

Most of the bureau’s job fairs have been in North Jersey, but Bolden said more will be coming to South Jersey.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Control gentrification in Jersey City now, community leaders say. Residents are being pushed out of their homes.

(This Op-ed originally appeared on on 4/18/19)

Jersey City skyscrapers
Long-time residents of Jersey City are being pushed out

By Richard Smith and Christian Estevez
With skyrocketing rents outpacing what most ordinary people can afford, Jersey City should be coming to terms with the fact that its residents are being priced out and forced out.

Developers who are making unfathomable amounts of money building homes for wealthy new residents have no incentive to solve this problem. It is time for Mayor Steven Fulop and the City Council to adopt an effective policy that requires developers to make at least 20 percent of new homes affordable as a way to curb the gentrification that is emptying Jersey City of longtime residents. In the case of city-owned land, or when public subsidies are used, the percent should go above 20 percent.

For decades, our state’s urban cores suffered from disinvestment, while wealthy suburban communities boomed. This disparity, driven by many towns’ exclusionary zoning laws, has helped make New Jersey one of the most racially and economically segregated states in the country.

As New Jersey’s urban communities revitalize, working families and communities of color in places like Jersey City are at the losing end of a real estate market that pursues profits over fairness and high rents over fair rents.

After living in Jersey City through challenging decades of disinvestment, lower-income African American and Latino families are being particularly threatened with displacement as investment floods in.

While we welcome additional investment in New Jersey’s cities, it must not come at the cost of displacement and homelessness. Our elected officials have an obligation to prevent the negative impacts that rapid gentrification has on our state’s most vulnerable communities.

Jersey City’s elected leaders must act – or they risk turning the city into an exclusive enclave of the rich and powerful.

It is irresponsible that Jersey City has added thousands of new apartments in recent years, rewarding developers with lucrative density increases, without putting inclusionary zoning requirements in place to protect lower-income families – as permitted under state law.

Left to their own devices, powerful developers will build housing for people earning over $100,000 annually and call these units “affordable.”

But that is not where the greatest need is.

Jersey City must target new affordable housing requirements to protect families earning as little as $20,000 to $45,000 per year – where the need is greatest.

And officials must prevent new requirements from being undermined by loopholes that would allow developers to wriggle out of their affordable housing requirements.

An effective fair housing policy must focus on housing – not be subverted as a tool to meet other goals while allowing gentrification to take over the city.

Mayor Fulop’s press releases and social media posts in recent years have claimed that his administration is going to address this issue. Most recently, the mayor wrote on social media last November that “Jersey City will be enacting an inclusionary zoning ordinance like many other major cities. … It is very close to becoming reality and will be a huge benefit to keeping Jersey City a special mixed-income community.”

But to date, there has been no real progress. While the mayor’s promises go unmet, developers are making Jersey City a “special” community for New York transplants who think nothing of paying $1 million for a condo – at the expense of the city’s African-American and Latino residents.

Indeed, while Jersey City stands still, other nearby cities have put in place protections for longtime residents and adopted equitable housing policies, including Hoboken, Newark and Union City. These ordinances require homes to be affordable at the lowest possible ranges.

Hoboken is even in the process of strengthening its affordable housing ordinance.
These gentrifying communities have benefited from the leadership of mayors like Dawn Zimmer, Ravinder Bhalla, Ras Baraka, and Brian Stack. Yet in the face of incredible progress, Jersey City, which has the greatest potential and the highest need, lags behind.

The time for Jersey City to adopt an effective housing policy has arrived.
We urge Mayor Fulop and the City Council to do what should have been done long ago: Adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance that ensures that all residents of Jersey 

City benefit from the private market interest in the city. The ordinance should require all developments to have a minimum of 20 percent affordable housing. No buyouts, no loopholes, and no scams.

We need legislation that forces developers to address the negative consequences of gentrification. And we need it now.

Christian Estevez is president of the Latino Action Network and Richard Smith is president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference.