Law & Justice

After Protest, New Brunswick Mayor Responds to Pro-Immigrant Demands

Protesters on Feb. 7 outside New Brunswick City Hall.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Dozens of protesters gathered outside City Hall last week, urging New Brunswick to adopt a list of seven policies designed to help protect undocumented immigrants under Donald Trump’s presidency.

The rally was the result of comments made by Mayor James Cahill and his staff, whose critics said his stances were not strong enough.

But the mayor issued a response yesterday, which argued against that idea, outlined how the city safeguards immigrants and suggested that protest organizers didn’t do their homework.

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“The misrepresentations made regarding the City of New Brunswick by those claiming to be in support of the rally … only served to potentially erode the trust established here among our community stakeholders and those they represent,” Cahill wrote in a letter addressed to the head of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, which helped organize the demonstration.

Cahill said the city has in place five of the seven policies demanded by the protesters.

One policy demand, the creation of a municipal ID program that’s open to undocumented people, is being researched and drafted as an ordinance, according to the mayor’s letter. That initiative, which is similar to one launched in New York City in 2015, could appear as a line item in the upcoming municipal budget.

Another action item called for the city to set aside money for legal support for immigrants who live in New Brunswick. Cahill said the city “works with and provides support to programs” that offer such services, but the “complexity” of the matter means the city must discuss the idea with other communities, in a “comprehensive, regional approach.”

Farther along in the four-page letter, the mayor called for better communication between the city and its residents—and between the roughly 50 organizations that backed the protest and the people they’re trying to reach.

New Brunswick shares “the same principles and values expressed in your demands,” Cahill wrote. Protest organizers would’ve known that if they reached out to local leaders, he noted.

“It is unfortunate,” Cahill wrote, “that one would attempt to drive a dividing wedge between those of like mind and policy.”

But Johanna Calle, program director for the Alliance, said this morning that her organization and its local partners want to work with Cahill and the city.

“We want to support the mayor’s efforts,” she told TAPinto New Brunswick. “There are a lot of practices, but the reality is that under the Trump administration, informal practices are not going to be able to hold up.”

Calle again called for “concrete” police department directives that bar officers from assisting with immigration investigations and raids and detaining people based solely on their immigration status.

Cahill has said such procedures are already in place.

In his letter, the mayor mentioned that only a handful of groups to sign the list of demands have a “direct” relationship to New Brunswick. Calle said local groups organized the rally.

“They’re the ones who believe the mayor has not been communicative or collaborative,” she said. “This isn’t us just shutting people into the town for the rally.”

New Brunswick has welcomed immigrants from across the world for more than 300 years, according to the city. Many of those entering the Hub City now come from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, Cahill added.

Some activists plan to attend tomorrow night’s City Council meeting to further discuss their demands.

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