Millburn Residents Speak Out on Sanctuary City Status at Township Committee Meeting

Susannah Leisher and Liz Lacher address the Township Committee Credits: Jonathan Sym

MILLBURN, NJ - Emotions ran high Tuesday evening as the public discussion portion of the Township Committee meeting focused on a polarizing topic; Sanctuary or "Freedom" City status for Millburn.

Susannah Leisher and Liz Lacher stepped to the podium to address the Township Committee and present their three-point plan to get the conversation started with the committee and the community.

"I know from experience that Millburn is a place of welcome and support," Leisher said. "The idea is to formalize in some way our feeling of wanting to protect and support our residents, our friends, and our neighbors." She made a point to highlight that, "All in all, concepts relating to sanctuary status are not illegal. They relate to the way in which policies and law are enforced."

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Their three-point plan for the path ahead included getting input from the committee help assess the status of Millburn related to the 9-point plan from the ACLU. The 9-Point Plan can be found here and was submitted to the committee members. Secondly, they requested that the topic of sanctuary city be put on the agenda again in one month to continue the dialogue. Finally, they wanted to figure out a path ahead that could solicit input from the community in a comprehensive way and talk to the police officers to get their feelings on the matter. 

Lacher added, "These nine rules would be helpful in both protecting residents of the township and providing a safe environment for us as well as immigrants that may be here and may encounter either local officials or police or members of ICE or Border Patrol." 

Newly appointed Township Committee Liasion for Sanctuary City Committeeman Sam Levy questioned Lacher and Leister on the finer points of their proposal including who they are looking to protect. "Do you advocate that this applies exclusively to Millburn residents or non-Millburn residents as well?" Leicher countered that she wants what the community as a whole feels comfortable with enacting.

Levy further questioned the potential fiscal ramifications. "The White House has issued an executive order in which local municipalities are subject to not receiving federal funds that they otherwise would be entitled to, and Governor Christie has announced his intention to honor that [Executive Order], but also to withhold state funds from local municipalities. Millburn Township receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds." Levy used the example of expected Sandy Relief monies anticipated at approximately $260,000. He continued to note that other towns in the surrounding area plan to challenge withholding of funds on constitutional grounds, but regardless of the outcome, the cost of such a suit would crest $1 million dollars. 

Members of the public spoke on both sides for and against the idea of a potential "sanctuary city." Two residents, Jason Sacks and Jared Birnbaum both spoke on the fiscal concerns. Sacks said "I think the Township Committee should perhaps keep in mind anything that it does has to take into account risks to funding. One of the most important things is that funding sources are considered, and that was can maximize outside funding in order to manage the tax burden." Birnbaum said "anything in my mind that would jeopardize funding," to a list of projects and services in Millburn, "is unacceptable."

Another Millburn resident countered, "Of course the President and the Governor threatened communities with taking funds away because they knew that would be the type of thing people respond viscerally. That is why it is so important for that many towns like ours take some kind of stand, and they will back off when they see that kind of unity." 

Resident Matthew Naula questioned how a potential sanctuary city "Is it possible if this does go further, is this something that is going to be determined by the town counsel or by a vote of the residents of Millburn."

Resident Jennifer Otner spoke to public safety in support of the idea of sanctuary city status. "Sanctuary city is actually shown to increase public safety." "I think we all have to look honestly within ourselves, consider who works in our homes, who takes care of our children. I am without a doubt positive there are people of perhaps uncertain immigrant status that work wth our families." She noted that if people feel uneasy going to the police if they are a victim or witness to a crime that the community as a whole is less safe.  

Amy Radin, who lost her brother in 9/11 terrorist attacks said, "In the end, our behavior is going to speak volumes, and I hope we will role model the right behavior to our children." 

The final public comment on sanctuary status went to Lori Marcketta who said in opposition, "Sometimes it is too late to wait for a warrant. Mohammad Atta leader of the 9/11 hijackers was stopped and ticketed for driving without a license in Florida in early 2001 when his visa had expired. One of his accomplices Zaid Jarrah, the pilot of United Airlines 93 flight, was pulled over on September 9, 2001, by Maryland State Troopers for speeding in a rental car. Both of these individuals were released due to sanctuary policies."

The meeting adjourned without a decision on the sanctuary city status issue. The next Township Committee meeting is set for April 4 at 7:30 pm. 

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