WEST ORANGE, NJ – With stronger enforcement of immigration laws being a top priority of the Trump Administration, immigrants in West Orange and beyond need to know their rights more than ever, according to the West Orange Hispanic Foundation (WOHF). In conjunction with the Faith in New Jersey Organization, the WOHF organized a “Know Your Rights as an Immigrant” forum on Sunday at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Orange.

More than 200 people packed the church’s meeting room to hear from local officials about their rights as immigrants and to ask the officials questions.

Among the panelists interacting with the immigrant community were Mayor Robert Parisi, Assemblyman John McKeon, Councilman Victor Cirilo, attorney Fernando Marin, Chris Horacio Campos of the Faith in New Jersey Organization and Deputy Mayor Rodolfo Rodriguez, founder of the WOHF and an organizer of the meeting.

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Parisi assured those present that all West Orange residents would be protected equally, and reiterated that there is no need to declare West Orange a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants.  

“The Hispanic community in West Orange knows they have a friend in Mayor Parisi, who has always been there for them and will continue to be in the future,” said Rodriguez.

Cirilo spoke about his life as a young émigré, and how through doing well in school and going to college he went on to become a councilman.

“I wanted Victor to speak to the crowd because he is a wonderful example for new immigrants and their children,” said Rodriguez, who added that the bottom-line message given to those present was not to panic. “We don’t want people to be scared. That is not a way to live your life.”

Some of the issues discussed during the forum included the importance of immigrants cooperating with law enforcement when necessary to do so and to always tell them the full truth.

“Immigrants must never drive without a license,” said Rodriguez. “If an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent comes to their home, the immigrant should not open their door without seeing a warrant order. They must never show fake identification, and always say their correct name.”

Immigrants at the meeting were told by officials to always cooperate with West Orange police, and that the police are not working with immigration agents.

Rodriguez told them that if they are ever pulled over by ICE officers, they should not run.

“This only makes things worse for them,” he said. “When dealing with ICE, immigrants should always ask for a lawyer. They should make sure they remember someone’s phone number to alert family members about where they are and their situation, and make 100 percent sure it is an ICE officer they are dealing with.”

McKeon assured those present that he would always have their backs when legislation dealing with immigration policy is considered in Trenton.

Among those attending the meeting was Shannon McKinnon, chairperson of the Essex Rising Fair & Welcoming Committee. In an interview with her after the meeting, she said her committee is urging West Orange “to stand up for the values we all cherish.”  

“Diversity is one of West Orange’s greatest strengths,” she said. “Assisting with federal immigration enforcement efforts would alienate our residents and damage our commitment to unity.”

Rodriguez said that McKinnon asked for his help in organizing a similar meeting at the Hazel Elementary School, which serves many immigrant families. He said he would do his best to pull such a meeting together, as well as another forum in a larger venue since the church’s meeting room was full to capacity and people who came later could not get in.

Future meeting dates will be posted on the West Orange Hispanic Foundation’s Facebook page.