NJ Could Be First In East Coast To Let Undocumented Immigrants Get Professional Licenses (Audio) - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

NJ Could Be First In East Coast To Let Undocumented Immigrants Get Professional Licenses (Audio)

Taken from WNYC

By Karen Yi

August 18, 2020

Estrella Rivas, 20, dreams of being a doctor. She wants to be a surgeon, or maybe a pediatrician.

But for years, one barrier blocker her way: her undocumented status.

“I just kept pushing and continuing and trying to do my best for any chance that came,” Rivas said.

Rivas was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. when she was five years-old. She enrolled in Rutgers University as a pre-med student, even though she knew she wouldn’t be able to take that last step: getting her medical license.

Rivas, who will be a junior this fall and a member of Make the Road New Jersey, is used to doors shutting in her face — for internships, jobs and volunteer positions.

But now a bill on Governor Phil Murphy’s desk is giving Rivas hope. If signed, the law would remove immigration barriers to all occupational licenses for thousands of people, like Rivas. New Jersey licenses more than 200 professions including boxers, manicurists, electricians, nurses, and teachers. But most applications ask for a social security number or work authorization.

The Migration Policy Institute said there are 14,000 immigrant health care workers in the state with under-utilized degrees largely because they’re undocumented or they were educated abroad and find it hard to get work.

“During this COVID crisis it would have been a great resource for our hospitals that were overburdened and didn’t have enough staff to to work,” said Barbara Rosen, the first vice president for The Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), the state’s largest union of certified nurses.

HPAE and dozens of labor groups signed a letter supporting the bill, which passed the state Senate and Assembly last month with the support of Democrats and Republicans.

Alyana Alfaro, a spokeswoman for Murphy, did not comment on when or if the Governor would sign the bill into law but he has signaled support for it.

“Governor Murphy believes that immigrants are a critical part of the fabric of life in New Jersey, and that they should not face unnecessary barriers as they seek to participate in our society and economy,” Alfaro said in a statement.

If signed, the law would be among the most sweeping of its kind in the country, and the first in the East Coast to waive immigration restrictions for all professional licensing.

Adriana Gonzalez, 26, is a teacher for special needs students in Somerset County. She has DACA, the program that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, which is now in legal limbo. This bill could protect her if DACA ends.

“That certificate is something that I earned through five years, through having to work and pay for my schooling, my loans, everything that a citizen would typically have to do to go through the process I was doing as well,” she said.

Gonzalez hopes that when schools reopen in a few weeks, she’ll have one less worry on her mind.

Read more here.