“It was my good fortune to lend a helping hand to the weary travelers flying from the land of bondage.”

  • William Still

This February, as we celebrate Black History Month, it is fit to marvel at the courage of American heroes of The Underground Railroad such as William Still, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, who made the choice to travel the perilous journey through a network of sanctuary locations in order to escape from bondage seeking a better life in the North. Today, we must recognize that we are currently facing a moral dilemma very similar to the one faced by our forefathers. 

President Donald Trump’s Executive Order, which bans people of seven Muslim-majority countries resettlement and entry into the United States, has had a large dragnet, capturing students, non-permanent workers, professional employees, business people, entertainers and athletes. Does keeping our County safe include deterring those who hold legal immigrant, visas, or dual citizenship and who want to enter the United States for a better life?

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Imagine having to choose to remain trapped in horrible inhumane conditions or leaving your family for a chance of a better life, fleeing harsh social, political and economic conditions. This was the choice of those who traveled the Underground Railroad, and the challenge faced today by those targeted in this sweeping legislation.

All would agree with the need to keep our Country safe - yet is there no room for compassion and proper adherence to the law? There is no known correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime. In fact studies prove that there are inherent benefits to the economy and culture of many cities due to the contributions of undocumented immigrants. Laws were designed to protect our citizens and our borders, and America is at her best when we legislate and enforce our laws based upon the principles of freedom, not fear. Our borders are permeable but not because of a lack of strength but because of a powerful belief that America is where anyone can pursue their dreams if they apply themselves. We are, and will continue to be, the standard bearers of the free world.

As a community, we have chosen not to cower in the shadow of a wall, but to stand for the ideals that make us great. East Orange is a model city which welcomes freedom and diversity. We are a Sanctuary City for undocumented immigrants. As a Sanctuary City, we choose not to assist as a municipality Federal agencies with their newly aggressive approach towards immigration. This by no means violates Constitutional law or intends to interfere with the Federal government process. Like members of the Underground Railroad, we seek to make a moral stance against a degree which we find unfair and morally wrong. Like those who bravely opposed slavery this decision does not come without risk as President Trump as threatened retaliation to Cities who are brave enough to oppose this ban. I am proud that our Cities have taken this position. I know that we are on the right side of this issue and history will judge East Orange well.

As a nation, we would greatly benefit from the following statement from The New Jersey Legislature in 2008:

“The Legislature of the State of New Jersey expresses its profound regret for the State’s role in slavery and apologizes for the wrongs inflicted by slavery and its after effects in the United States of America; expresses it deepest sympathies and solemn regrets to those who were enslaved and the descendants of those slaves, who deprived of life, human dignity, and the Constitutional protection accorded all citizens of the United States; and we encourage all citizens to remember and teach their children about the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and modern day slavery, to ensure that these tragedies will neither be forgotten nor repeated.”