LIVINGSTON, NJ - The overwhelming majority of township residents, clergy and immigration advocates attending a standing-room-only conference meeting of the Livingston governing body on Monday made it clear they want their councilmen to take a stand against the use of local police to enforce mandates spurred by President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on illegal immigration.
Livingston resident Laurie Beecham urged the council to pass a resolution stating that Livingston is a “fair and welcoming town” open to all.
She noted that after a previous council meeting where the immigration topic was addressed, a Canadian with a Green Card who is in the United States legally told her she feared she would be caught up in an immigration sweep.
Beecham said that residents should receive assurances that the township is not engaged in enforcement agreements with federal authorities.
At issue is Section 287(G) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act, which enables the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to make voluntary agreements to have local law enforcement officials aid with ICE immigration enforcement and possible deportations within local communities.
Beecham noted that Livingston has a significant amount of residents who came to the township from southern Asia, plus a number of employees and customers in local businesses who are from a wide variety of countries.
She said that, particularly since the Trump executive order was issued, people in these groups have become more fearful of being swept up in ICE raids.
The resident urged the council to make a clear statement that Livingston is open and welcoming to all.
Another resident, noting that he has many relatives and friends from other countries who are now afraid to visit due to the executive order, said Livingston is at “the crossroads of New Jersey and Essex County,” where many immigrants from other countries live, work and shop—and he did not want Livingston taxpayers footing the bill for a federal immigration crackdown.
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowicz of Temple B’nai Abraham of Livingston said that, out of fairness, the township should do more to promote an atmosphere of welcome for these people.
Rev. Daniel L. Martian of the Presbyterian Church of Livingston said there is a feeling of suspicion within the community and that people are afraid that, should they be stopped by police, they would face immigration enforcement proceedings.
Livingston resident Shari Goldberg noted that her children attended Riker Hill School, which did much to celebrate the diversity of its student population and all cultures and said that local enforcement of the executive order would send the wrong message to her children.
Brian Lozano, community organizer and advocacy coordinator for the Wind of the Spirit Immigration Resource Center of Morristown, said that, just because only 4 percent of the population of Livingston is Latino does not mean that there are no undocumented immigrants in the township. He repeated the fear among immigrants that if they are stopped by a Livingston policeman they could end up in the immigration enforcement system.
He noted that there is currently “no clear path to citizenship” for those who are undocumented, and they can only obtain visas if they are married to a United States citizen or obtain a “U” visa because they have been a witness to a crime.
The immigrant advocate also said it would be very difficult for the township to provide a clear directive to stop police from volunteering to comply with Section 287(G) if this directive was only outlined in a council resolution. He also noted that his own mother came to the United States from Columbia without documents and worked hard as a housekeeper in Livingston to help raise her family.
Lozano said many other families find themselves in the same situation.
However, a different opinion was expressed by resident Robert Hunter, who noted that Irish immigrant Annie Moore entered the United States legally through Ellis Island in 1892 and was followed by approximately 17 million more legal immigrants until the facility was closed in 1954.
He said that illegal immigrants were subject to abuse, and that the nation has no way of telling where illegal immigrants come from or whether they are coming to commit crimes in the United States.
Hunter also said he felt very sorry for men who had to wait on street corners every morning to obtain work. He noted that in England and Germany, for example, if an individual shows up saying he or she wants to enter those countries, he or she “probably would wind up in the slammer.”
He said that the United States needs people who are coming here legally and that it was unfortunate that California farmers started the illegal immigrant trend by hiring workers for their fields and then sending them back to Mexico “with no more than $10.”
However, Rev. James deBoer, pastor of the Federated Church of Livingston, noted that many of his parishioners were immigrants—from Cuba, Barbados, Brazil and many other countries.
He cited the Bible, Matthew, Chapter 25, which states, “I was strange and you welcomed me,” and Deuteronomy, which speaks of “sparing not justice” for the stranger.
The clergyman also repeated the story of the Good Samaritan who helped a stranger who had been attacked by thieves on a roadside when many of his own people would not stop to help the man.
Another clergyman, Rev. Richard Vossler of Grace Lutheran Church, said he hoped that any measure adopted by the council was based upon law and not upon fear.
Mayor Shawn Klein replied that no Livingston police officer currently questions a person about his or her immigration status if they are stopped while driving or suspected of other violations.
Klein did say, however, that there might be a question of liability when dealing with information, where refusing to collect it may be legal but refusing to share it may not be legal.
Township attorney Sharon Weiner asked residents whether they would prefer a less stringent measure, expressing a desire to welcome all, to no action at all on the part of the township. She noted that municipalities like West Orange and Elizabeth, which has a large immigrant population, hesitated to pass measures dealing with the immigrant situation.
Weiner also said she was hesitant to recommend something that would “get the township involved with the federal government.”
She added that, thus far, no township police has become involved with ICE enforcement.
Lozano noted, however, that ICE agents can come into Livingston on their own and arrest someone suspected of a crime or immigration violation. He added that he did not want to see Livingston used in enforcement of an executive order wrapped up with immigration procedures.
To read more about this meeting, which outlined plans for the second annual Livingston Summerfest and more, click HERE.