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As the pandemic enters its second year, the absence of economic relief for New Jersey’s nearly 500,000 undocumented residents has created a vexing situation among advocates.

Proponents of relief say that as taxpaying undocumented workers remain excluded from federal relief efforts and pandemic-related unemployment benefits, the state should step in. They note other states, including California, Maryland and Washington have approved such monies for undocumented residents, though New Jersey has not. They also point to undocumented workers being more likely to be “essential workers.”

Opponents say the state cannot afford such benefits, especially for undocumented residents.

A coalition of groups — including Make the Road New Jersey, the Latino Action Network, LUPE PAC, NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice and the union SEIU 32BJ — has lobbied lawmakers in Trenton over the past year for aid for undocumented residents.

They’ve held more than 30 protests across the state, an overnight encampment at the Statehouse and 10 town hall meetings with lawmakers. They’ve also sent letters to Murphy and top lawmakers with more than 60 signatories and put up a billboard along the New Jersey Turnpike in Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s district.

On Tuesday, they announced a grassroots voting effort to mobilize and back candidates who support pandemic relief assistance for undocumented residents.

“For an entire year, Latinx immigrants and our families have been left behind from nearly every form of aid,” Deyanira Aldana, lead organizer at Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant advocacy group whose 501(c)(4) endorsed Murphy’s first run for office, said in a statement. “Our young men are dying at a rate seven times as high as white people. But our state has forgotten us. Latinx voters will not forget.”

A bill introduced last May that would allocate $35 million to provide a one-time payment to taxpaying undocumented residents, has yet to receive a committee hearing. And while Murphy’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 increases legal representation funds for immigration status issues from $6.2 million to $8.2 million and expands health care to undocumented children, the absence of direct immigrant aid goes against the governor’s progressive values, Campos-Medina said.

“If we do not take care of everybody or serve the most vulnerable — the undocumented who are keeping New Jersey citizens safe — then you can’t call yourself a progressive,” she said in an interview. “When you’re a progressive, you take care of the most vulnerable.”

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Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who sponsored S2480, said she would try to get the extra money into the budget.

“I want to bring this topic back up to see if there are creative ways that we can implement what the intent of the bill was,” she said in an interview.

There have been other frustrations.

Murphy drew the ire of immigrant groups for not taking a firm stance against controversial ICE contracts with Hudson and Bergen counties, which resulted in hunger strikes and confrontations with law enforcement at the two county jails late last year. The jails were criticized for allegedly poor living conditions, which were susceptible to the spread of Covid.

While the contracts are out of the state’s purview, immigrant groups said they were disappointed with Murphy’s noncommittal response.

“I’ve not seen the governor flex his political position as lead Democrat in the state to tell these local Democratically controlled counties that they need to act like Democrats,” said Amy Torres, executive director of New Jersey Alliance For Immigrant Justice. “It’s a real shame for New Jersey to call itself a blue state, and operate its prisons in jails like one of the reddest states.”

Immigrant groups say Murphy should stay attuned to their communities, or what was once an enthusiastic constituency could become a political vulnerability.

“[Murphy had] upwards of 80 percent of the Latino vote in 2017,” said Sara Cullinane of Make the Road New Jersey. “A lot of that was due to his really powerful stance on protecting immigrant communities. If that same sort of stance isn’t here this time around, I’m not sure he’ll see the same type of support.”

Though advocates acknowledge Murphy has accomplished much of what’s been on their agenda, excluding aid for undocumented residents taints his reputation as a progressive, they say, and leaves one resume gap that is important for him to fill.

“[Murphy has] made sweeping changes that make our state much more fair and welcoming for immigrants,” Cullinane said. “But by leaving a half million immigrants behind from aid, he signals that their survival in the pandemic isn’t as important. It casts a shadow on the rest of his work.”


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Queen sits alone at funeral for Prince Philip to set example

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Other royals who are in family bubbles are sitting together.

The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was to be simple and somber. There will be no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner will say the country has been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”

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Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral have a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.


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FBI says it interviewed FedEx mass shooter last year

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The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole, 19, of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said.

Hole began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility late Thursday, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself, McCartt said. He said he did not know if Hole owned the gun legally.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” he said. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes, and that there were at least 100 people in the facility at the time. Many were changing shifts or were on their dinner break, he said. Several people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital.

“You deserved so much better than this,” a man who identified himself as the grandson of Johal tweeted Friday evening. Johal had planned to work a double shift Thursday so she could take Friday off, according to the grandson, who would not give his full name but identifies himself as “Komal” on his Twitter page. Johal later decided to grab her check and go home, and still had the check in her hand when police found her, Komal said.

“(What) a harsh and cruel world we live in,” he added.

Smith, the youngest of the victims, was last in contact with her family shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, family members said in social media posts late Friday. Dominique Troutman, Smith’s sister, waited hours at the Holiday Inn for an update on her sister. “Words can’t even explain how I feel. … I’m so hurt,” Troutman said in a Facebook post Friday night.

Weisert had been working as a bag handler at FedEx for four years, his wife, Carol, told WISH-TV. The couple was married nearly 50 years.

President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence “an epidemic” in the U.S.

“Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation,” he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, “We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives.”

A FedEx employee said he was working inside the building Thursday night when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology. A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s home after responding to the mother’s call. Keenan said the gun was never returned.

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McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. The deputy police chief said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for the shooting.

Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a “significant” number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was “sad to confirm” that at least four of those killed were community members.

The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.”

Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a national advocacy group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that the shootings marked “yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country.”

Nikore remarked that gun violence in the U.S. “is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby.”

FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.”

“This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel,” he wrote in an email to employees.

The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and “the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it.”


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Gaetz ex-girlfriend feared alleged sex-trafficking victim taped call for feds

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Gaetz’s former girlfriend has played a bit role in the unfolding public drama — she is the woman who sent the lawmaker a nude video of her performing a hula hoop dance that he showed to other members of Congress.

But two of her friends, who declined to be identified publicly because of the sensational nature of the case, say she now suspects she was being set up when the alleged victim and another woman involved in the case called her to discuss the lawmaker in what she fears might have been a recorded conference call. The call took place sometime after Greenberg was indicted for the sex crime in August.

The friends did not provide details about exactly what was discussed, but one recounted that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend said she was opposed to talking to authorities and is now worried that prosecutors might try to charge her with obstructing justice in order to get to Gaetz.

Tim Jansen, an attorney for Gaetz’s former girlfriend, declined to comment about his client. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, also declined to talk. Gaetz has strongly denied allegations he engaged in any sex crimes.

The three women on the call were all present on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas that authorities think may shed light on the allegations against Gaetz. Also present on that trip: Gaetz and two other Florida Republican political players, former Orlando-area aviation authority member and Gov. Ron DeSantis fundraiser Jason Pirozzolo and former state Rep. Halsey Beshears.

POLITICO is withholding the names of the women who went to the Bahamas, including his ex-girlfriend, because of the sensitive nature of the case and the allegations that while there, some of the women engaged in prostitution.

As the investigation intensified this winter, Beshears abruptly resigned in January as Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary — a post that made him the state’s top business regulator — noting he had contracted Covid-19. About that time, federal authorities seized the iPhones of Gaetz and his former girlfriend.

Federal authorities are examining the Bahamas trip to see if it violated the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution. One woman on the trip told POLITICO that no one engaged in prostitution.

The alleged victim in the sex-trafficking case had turned 18 almost nine months before the Bahamas trip. But Gaetz has acknowledged he’s the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had improper involvement with her as a 17-year-old.

A source familiar with the investigation wouldn’t say whether the alleged victim was cooperating with authorities. But when asked if she has been talking for months with the federal government, the source said “100 percent.”

While the alleged sex-trafficking victim is key to the case against Greenberg and the allegations against Gaetz, the lawmaker’s ex-girlfriend could play a pivotal role in the investigation of the trip, as well as other related controversies.

Gaetz was criticized for allegedly showing the hula hoop video to congressional colleagues, and he was also accused of engaging in revenge porn against his former girlfriend. But two of her friends say the woman, in her early 20s, did not object to him showing it to friends — provided he didn’t send it to others or post it on social media — because she was proud of her appearance and performance.

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“This is the best I will ever look in my life,” a friend who saw the video recalled her saying. “That’s how she is. It’s not revenge porn.”

The former girlfriend first met Gaetz while she attended college in the Orlando area in 2017. Greenberg, who established contact with her on the SeekingArrangement website — a dating website that connects women with so-called sugar daddies — made the connection. Soon after, she began dating Gaetz, although the relationship was not exclusive, friends said.

Gaetz later got her a job interning in the office of another Republican member of Congress, but that member let her go when it was discovered she was a Democrat, according to Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who promptly hired her when Gaetz told him of the matter.

Soto, who is not involved in the investigation, would not name the Republican lawmaker or comment about the case. But he said the woman was a hard worker in his office and that he had no complaints about her, other than some inquiries about whether Gaetz’s relationship with the intern was inappropriate.

“We wanted to protect her privacy from the media. She was just an intern,” Soto said. “I’ll also say she was fired by a Republican for being a Democrat. I found it offensive that she was fired for her political beliefs.”

Gaetz and the ex-girlfriend continued to date until well after the Bahamas trip in 2018. Friends said the two remained on good terms, although she was a source of friction between the lawmaker and Beshears. Beshears had apparently been taking her out on dates in Tallahassee, including a trip to the Florida State University president’s skybox at Doak Campbell Stadium, mutual friends said.

At the time, Beshears had recently been left by another girlfriend after she learned about the Bahamas trip. Beshears, then a state legislator, had flown several of the women on his private plane, which was briefly detained by U.S. Customs upon its return to Florida for questioning about the ages of several of the young women on the trip.

“Here was Halsey with three young women who could have been his daughters, and a Customs agent was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?‘” said a source who was familiar with the incident.

Speaking to the partying group and the drama surrounding them, a different mutual friend said: “Tallahassee is like high school. But no one ever graduates.”


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