There’s a new crisis at the border between the United States and Mexico. And as people make their way into the interior of the country New Jersey and other states are feeling the impact.
That’s the message Muzaffar Chisti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at the New York University School of Law, gave journalists from across New Jersey on March 28 during the Montclair State University Center for Cooperative Media’s press briefing on immigration.
“The crisis now has been brought from the border into the interior of the country,” said Chisti. “And let me tell you what the crisis is, we have a border which is very different from what it used to be in 2008.”
The border challenge used to be a single Mexican male who would come to America to look for a job, he said.
“And our policies, our laws, and our resources or infrastructure are actually built for 2008, border,” Chisti said. “And we had policies which actually limited and had contained immigration from Mexico, to a very large degree.”
But in 2014, migrants began coming in droves to the border from Central America, the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And, the family composition began to change, Chisti explained.
“So, it became more from single males to families coming in units, and sometimes children coming by themselves,” Chisti said. “And all of us, we would appreciate that the policy toward single males could not be the same as policy toward kids.”
These are the new asylum-seekers, Chisti said. And some such as Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas gave immigrants bus tickets to New York, Chicago or Washington to avoid providing them services.
And although Democrats called it a political move to punish immigrants, “we soon found out that immigrants are rational actors, that they actually liked the idea of being bussed,” Chisti said.
Chisti said the cost of providing services to immigrants is nearing $4 billion per year.
“And so it has now become a fiscal issue,” Chisti said. “We can no longer call it a regional or a local phenomenon. We can no longer call it a Texas or New York phenomenon. This is a national phenomenon.”
Johanna Calle, director at the NJ Office of New Americans, Department of Human Services, said New Jersey has 2.2 million immigrant residents.
Calle said asylum-seekers, refugees, naturalized citizens, and new arrivals all make up the immigration landscape.
“We have a very diverse group of people that we’re serving here in New Jersey who fall under that new American structure,” Calle said. “The priority of our office was to ensure that new American populations have access to programs and services across the state.”
The Office of New Americans was created by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2019 under an executive order, Calle said.
The challenge was to build an office that could work well with people who speak limited English and provide services through the state and by connecting people with nonprofits and others who also can help.
“Many of those folks that are refugees, or who are granted asylum status are eligible for Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement benefits,” Calle said.
The Office of New Americans also oversees two legal services programs:
The first is an $8.2 million fund to provide legal representation for those facing detention and deportation. The second is a $4.5 million fund for representation for unaccompanied minors. Both work in partnership with pro bono attorneys.
“Many of them can get mainstream benefits when they get here like food assistance and cash assistance,” Calle said of immigrants. “And, for us, it’s really ensuring that those folks are aware of those services because when they arrive, many of them are not aware that they are eligible for some of those programs.”
To see the entire press briefing click the link below.
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