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New Jersey and California Kick Off 2024 With Pro-Immigrant Wins

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2024 kicked off with two historic wins for hundreds of thousands of immigrant families on opposite coasts of the nation. California has become the first in the country to open state health care insurance to all eligible undocumented adults. In New Jersey, workers and advocates celebrated new law ensuring housekeepers, caretakers, and other domestic workers have the same basic rights and protections as other workers.

“Beginning Jan. 1, for the first time, undocumented immigrants of all ages will qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for extremely low-income people,” Cal Matters reported on the expansion of health care to an additional 700,000 undocumented residents in California. This historic expansion opens state health care insurance to eligible immigrants who would otherwise qualify for the program for low-income Californians. It’s the final stage in a years-long process that began with opening health care coverage to all children regardless of immigration status, “and is due to the efforts of advocates trekking to the Capitol to plead their case,” Cal Matters continued.

Not only is this humane policy, it’s effective public health policy, because a healthier population benefits everyone. It’s also a matter of fairness, treating eligible, taxpaying immigrants the same as other Californians. Undocumented immigrants in California pay more than $3.6 billion in local and state taxes annually but remain barred from certain services due to their immigration status. DACA recipients, meanwhile, pay more than $1 billion in local and state taxes annually (the Biden administration last year announced a new policy opening the Affordable Care Act to this population).  

“When we talk to people who are impacted by this [expansion], the difference it makes in their lives is something that truly numbers and words cannot even describe,” Sarah Dar, policy director for the California Immigrant Policy Center, told Cal Matters. “In many cases people have lived for decades without any kind of health care whatsoever.”

Our own Ruth Delgado, who lives in New Jersey, highlighted the signing into law of the New Jersey Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which guarantees domestic workers their meal and rest breaks, a weekly day of rest, mandatory employment contracts, and as well as ensures protections against unscrupulous and abusive bosses, among numerous provisions. Domestic workers and advocates cheered and applauded after Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill into law (he also retweeted Ruth’s tweet!).

Many likely assume domestic workers were already guaranteed these basic workplace rights, “but they were deliberately excluded from many foundational labor laws made during the New Deal era,” Domestic Workers Alliance leader Ai-jen Poo, who has been instrumental in championing a federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, said in 2019. This has unquestionably hurt immigrants and women of color, who make up many of the more than two million people who work as domestic workers across the U.S. In New Jersey, 50,000 residents work as domestic workers.

“This law establishes basic legal rights for New Jersey’s 50,000 workers, many of whom are experiencing wage theft, denial of breaks, and lack of sick leave,” said state senator and bill sponsor Britnee Timberlake. “Domestic workers care for families and homes across our state. They deserve basic rights and dignity.” The bill’s passage was a particularly poignant moment for Timberlake, and not just because it was her bill. She shared that her grandmother was a domestic worker. “In honor of my grandmother, Mary L. Whitely, a career domestic worker who cared for countless children and worked long, hard hours, I am very proud to see my bill signed into law,” she said.

Domestic worker Sandy Castro was among workers to witness the bill’s passage in the state assembly earlier this month. “It’s a very big win for us,” she told the New Jersey Monitor.

“It feels good to see it come to fruition after sacrificing so much time, so many days, to continue this fight.”

But New Jersey wasn’t done just yet passing legislation to create a more inclusive state. Other bills signed into law by Governor Murphy require state agencies to update their demographic data collection methods, as well as require government agencies to provide vital documents and translation services in multiple languages.

“Language barriers can make it very difficult for New Jersey’s immigrant communities to navigate government programs and access important information, services and worker protections as they make our state their home,” said NJ Human Services’ Office of New Americans Director Johanna Calle. “The new laws signed by Governor Murphy today will break down these barriers and reinforce New Jersey’s commitment to supporting and building trust with the communities we serve. NJ Human Services is grateful to Governor Murphy and our legislative partners for the doors these new laws will open.”