MADISON, NJ – Council chambers were packed on Monday, Feb. 6, when Mayor Robert Conley introduced a welcoming community resolution.
The resolution refers to the borough’s commitment to “equal, respectful and dignified treatment of all people, regardless of their immigration status and to remain a welcoming community.” After listening to public comments, the council voted 5-0 to approve the resolution. Councilman Patrick Rowe abstained.
“We’re living in interesting times,” the mayor said and added this resolution was “too important to wait another week.” The initial purpose was a budget meeting, with the regular council meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 13. “The world is growing smaller, but we seem to be farther apart,” he said. “This is not the end of the discussion,” he added.
Numerous residents weighed in, primarily in favor of the spirit of the resolution, if not its wording. Almost everyone who spoke had a personal account of either being an immigrant or the son or daughter of an immigrant.
A professor from Drew University noted that the resolution welcomes international students from Drew, Fairleigh Dickinson and the College of St. Elizabeth. She said the resolution is a first step and encouraged Madison to become a sanctuary city.
A Rutgers Law School student who is studying immigration said of the resolution, “On face value, it’s great. But it doesn’t protect the community.” She urged the council not to rush into the process and said that two items in the resolution were contradictory. One item supports federal or state statutes while another said it would appeal or challenge federal immigration laws in relation to borough funds.
A sixth grade student said, “We are afraid.” When she was younger, she said, her parents were undocumented and she lived in fear that they would be deported.
Another resident, who said he is from Brazil, submitted a petition signed by a hundred people and said the important thing was to communicate and to “have a robust conversation. Who was not at the table?” he asked of those who wrote the resolution.
A Drew student, who said his grandparents were from the Netherlands, said he has had to counsel peers and friends who are afraid they won’t be able to return to their homes in other countries. He said although he admired the effort, “it should not be an empty resolution with empty words.”
A moving account came from a woman from Colombia through an interpreter. She said her brother had disappeared in 1991 and seven months later she and her mother learned he had been tortured and assassinated. She returned to the country 23 years later, and no one she knew from her days at the university was alive. “Some communities are making local police into immigration officers,” she said. “It takes more courage to take a step back.”
Council members also weighed in with their views and experiences. Councilman Rowe said he would abstain because “we don’t set immigration policy” and that any resolution would not satisfy everyone.
Councilman Robert Landrigan said, “This president is a bully. And with a bully, the longer you go without making a statement, it grows and grows.” He said delaying the resolution would slow down momentum.
Mayor Conley urged a formation of a team or committee and anyone who would like to participate should email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He thanked the audience for coming and for having the courage to speak up and be heard.