Essex County News

Montclair Residents Flood Council Chambers to Demand 'Sanctuary City' Designation

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MONTCLAIR, NJ - Montclair residents packed into Township Council Chambers on Tuesday to demand that leaders make Montclair a Sanctuary City or Sanctuary Township.

Holding signs that read, "Hate Has No Home Here" and "No Human Being is Illegal," nearly a hundred residents raised their voices to the township leaders in support of this designation. 

Sanctuary cities are areas where the local law enforcement do not comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) orders to detain illegal immigrants for 48 hours, in order to cross reference their fingerprints. For those individuals who are determined to be connected to criminal activity, then ICE will decide whether or not to begin deportation. If the person is cleared, then they are to be released. 

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Since the enforcement of the executive order signed by President Donald Trump has begun, lawsuits have been launched by the ACLU and other civil rights activists nationwide, to establish whether detaining immigrants without actual charges is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. 

Residents across Montclair have raised their voices speaking out, by creating online petitions and organizing marches against President Trump’s executive orders authorizing construction of a wall along the Mexican border and a temporary ban on immigration from seven Mid-east countries.

Now residents have a new request of designating Montclair as a sanctuary city. In a movement than began as a few, the public outcry is growing and expanding each day. 

Over the weekend, former Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried, BlueWaveNJ and numerous local leaders, joined together with the Interfaith march in Paterson, where Passaic County leaders signed an order upholding the equal services and rights of all residents. There was also a large demonstration on the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Church Street on Saturday demanding sanctuary city status for Montclair.

During the Tuesday meeting, individuals and those representing organizations spoke in favor of the sanctuary city determination.

Rev. Ann Ralosky of the First Congregational Church, read a statement on behalf of the Montclair Clergy Association. With others by her side and cheering her on from the crowd, she said, "It's at the core of every faith tradition that the vulnerable and disenfranchised be protected and provided for, especially in these perilous and unstable times." She continued, "We believe that the enduring values of compassion and inclusion, historically exhibited by the Montclair community, will be most meaningful manifested by such action."

Chants broke out intermittently as organizers and speakers addressing the council one-by-one, approached the podium taking turns exhorting the crowd and encouraging township officials to stand united on this issue.

Although supportive of residents' demands, elected leaders were not so quick to jump on the bandwagon and pass a resolution, just yet. Primarily, the item was not on the agenda, but also that, township officials are still researching legal parameters of such a designation.

Fourth Ward Councilor Renee Baskerville thanked residents for showing up and letting their voices be heard. She said, "I introduced a resolution to declare that Montclair will continue to be a fair and welcoming township about a month ago."

Baskerville added that her council colleagues had not yet had an opportunity to review the resolution language prior to Tuesday's meeting.

Despite public outcry nationwide and even in Montclair, many elected leaders and municipalities have been advised by legal council to hesitate on moving forward, at least until they fully understand the ramifications the municipality may face if they defy the president's demands. They need to first research whether or not such a designation would place the township in violation of the Faulkner Act.

Mayor Robert Jackson and Attorney Ira Karasick told the crowd that no enforcement has taken place in Montclair and they do not expect such. Jackson added, "During the last 16 years...not one person from Montclair was referred to the ICE by local police."

President Trump has threatened to punish Sanctuary Cities or municipalities if they shelter immigrants or refuse to assist in enforcing immigration laws for undocumented immigrants living in the country illegally, by pulling the federal dollars.

According to the order it states that, "Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States."  It further admonishes sanctuary cities stating, "These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic."

According to the Associated Press, a small portion of the federal budget which involves grants could be affected. Individual payments for Social Security or healthcare, including Medicare/Medicaid or even the Affordable Care Act cannot be touched by Trump's threat. Nor can school, transportation or affordable housing funds, be touched by his threat, either. However, discretionary grants can be affected in all areas, except for law enforcement purposes. Municipalities receive discretionary grants from the Environmental Protection Agency for sewer and water, grants for first responders or economic stimulus, all of which, can be affected.

After New York, Chicago and Los Angeles became designated as a sanctuary City, a wave of many other municipalities have followed suit, including Newark, Paterson and East Orange.  

Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller said that he supported the residents' concerns saying, "This is about making a statement."

Details of exactly how defiance of this executive order will affect sanctuary cities, has yet to be released. However, there are certain to be legal challenges ahead, as opposers have already begun citing a 1997 Supreme Court decision that states the federal government cannot force states to uphold federal laws. The decision establishes that the federal government cannot make states "enact or administer a federal regulatory program."

Federal District Court Judge James Robart issued a restraining order in Seattle Friday that blocks Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning immigration to the United States of non-U.S. citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations for a period of  90 days during which time the U.S. would examine and re-tool its vetting procedures for immigration. The White House has issued a statement saying the U.S. Department of Justice would file an emergency appeal.

In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security suspended its enforcement of the ban as of Saturday.

As of Tuesday, New Jersey lawmakers have devised a plan to provide state aid to sanctuary cities denied federal funds for not to complying with immigration regulations. Sen. Brian Stack, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro introduced a bill in both houses of the NJ legislature on Tuesday.

The legislation, which is S-3007 in the Senate and A-4590 in the Assembly, would allow any municipality or county that has been denied federal funds to then apply to the state Commissioner of Community Affairs for a "dollar-for-dollar" match to compensate for the withheld federal dollars.  This has yet to be passed through the Senate or Assembly and remains to be seen, whether it will garner needed support to pass.

Baskerville took to social media after the meeting to add that she has been working with groups and individuals to come up with a statement that will have unanimous support of at least four council members, since that number is needed to pass a resolution. 

The next Montclair Township Council meeting is February 21, by which the council leaders express they are hopeful of having the language drafted to pass a resolution.

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