NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Gov. Phil Murphy told an audience of statewide leaders attending the first Hispanic State Resource Fair that there is a lot riding on the 2020 census for the state in general and for the Hispanic community in particular.

"The 2020 census process is probably more important to New Jersey than it is to any American state," Murphy told the audience at the Department of Children and Families Child Welfare Training Academy. "It certainly is as important to our Latino community as it is to any Latino community in the country. So it’s incredibly important that we all band together to put a significant amount of money in our budget to fund the process of making sure we get a complete count."

Representatives from the state departments of agriculture, education, transportation and others, as well as officials from the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission, the Economic Development Authority,  were on hand to meet with prominent Latino leaders in education, government and other areas.

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The audience applauded when Murphy told them that his administration takes the census "very, very seriously. It has huge implications to our representation in Washington as it relates to your federal dollars coming back to New Jersey. We’re one of the biggest donor states in the nation. We can’t afford to let that imbalance be anymore imbalanced."

Federal aid is often allocated to states based on their populations, although the Latino community could be tough to count accurately because many fear the ever-present specter of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

In fact, Murphy did not address two issues of particular concern among the Latino community in New Brunswick: ICE and the call for expanded access to driver's licenses regardless of immigration status.

Last month, Mayor Jim Cahill and about 50 people lined the steps outside of City Hall, some brandishing signs in the shape of traffic lights or traffic signs with pleas aimed at lawmakers. Other times, they chanted "The people united will not be defeated."

They touted the efforts of Let's Drive NJ and asked for the state's lawmakers to move forward on legislation (4743 in the Assembly and 3229 in the Senate) that would expand access to driver’s licenses to more residents. 

The only time the issue came to light during Monday's program was when a member of the audience called out to State Department of Banking and Insurance head Marlene Caride when she spoke following Murphy.

Caride was speaking about how Murphy's policies concerning health insurance and education have benefited the Latino community when the man called out to her in Spanish.

Caride responded in English: "The Governor has spoken on driver's licenses. I won’t touch that topic."

Murphy left the fair following comments by Caride and an official at Univision 41. He did not answer questions by reporters. The only access he granted to members of the media came before the program when he spoke to a reporter for Univision.

After the fair, a spokesperson for the governor provided TAPinto with a statement about Murphy's stance on ICE.

According to the statement, “President Trump’s policies that wrongfully target our immigrant communities are, at their core, cruel and unfair. In New Jersey, we are proving that a diverse society is a stronger society. We are better when we treat our immigrant communities with respect and welcome them to join us in writing the future story of our state. It is from these values that we put together today’s Hispanic Resource Fair, to ensure that every New Jersey family knows they are welcome, they are valued, and that they belong.”

One of the other themes repeated at the fair was, with the Hispanic population growing in the state (1.8 million and counting), so is the Hispanic community's political clout.

Caride said that thanks to Murphy, New Jersey boasts of the most diverse cabinet in the country. She also said that she is proud to serve as the first Hispanic leader of the Department of Banking and Insurance.