Residents Debate Making Westfield a Sanctuary City at Town Council Meeting

Deborah Kahn asks the mayor and town council to consider making Westfield a sanctuary city. Credits: Jackie Lieberman

WESTFIELD, NJ — During last week’s town council meeting, resident Deborah Kahn asked the mayor and town council to consider making Westfield a sanctuary city.

(Read about what it means to be a sanctuary city in this article by TAPinto Paterson: What is a Sanctuary City and How Does it Affect Your Neighborhood?)

“All that really means is that law enforcement officers, should they have contact with people that are illegal, whether they’re rescuing them, whether they’re helping them, people that have any sort of authority treat them basically like the rest of the population,” Kahn said. “In other words, if federal officials come into the town and say, ‘Okay, please tell me where your illegal aliens are. Please either keep them in jail longer because we want to kind of find out who they are or report them,’ that you just simply refuse to do that. That we would keep no separate records of people that are illegal aliens as opposed to everyone one.”

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In essence, she said, “It’s an effort of non-cooperation with any federal authorities that may come in seeking out illegal aliens for deportation."

“I think it’s our responsibility as citizens wherever we live to make an example for ourselves that we can stand up for everybody and stay united,” Kahn said. “I know the repercussions potentially are losing some federal funding, but I think, you know, we may find it worthwhile to do that to stand up for our citizens.”

Kahn argued that there could be a negative economic impact of losing illegal immigrants in Westfield and other nearby towns, such as people who were willing to take jobs that other people would not.

“But I think mostly it’s from an humanitarian point of view that illegal aliens should not be afraid to report a crime, to seek healthcare and to live their lives to the fullest,” Kahn told the council.

Several residents in attendance argued against making Westfield a sanctuary city, including Ray Gargiulo.

“I think the better example we could give is the example of following laws and following, you know, what our elected officials have asked us to do,” Gargiulo said. “One of the terms I heard is ‘not cooperating with federal officials,’ and that’s a little scary.”

Resident Erwin Ramirez agreed.

“In a sanctuary city, what people are asking is that the government not cooperate when a person has already committed an illegal act,” Ramirez said. “When a person has committed an illegal act, they have already violated the law. To the point where, if another law enforcement agency requested retention, you’re not retaining a person who is a model citizen; you’re not retaining a person who is contributing to society.”

Seventeen-year-old Michael Mohr-Ramirez questioned the financial repercussions of becoming a sanctuary city, saying that providing healthcare and other basic services to illegal immigrants would be a burden on taxpayers.

“The financial burden of that on the citizens would be massive,” Mohr-Ramirez said. “We don’t know how many people would come into the town or how many people would require housing or how we would provide that.”

“In addition that that," he said, "a lot of residents pay taxes. All residents pay taxes. I work — I’m 17 and I pay taxes on these things, believe it or not, and so it is a issue for tax payers having to say, because, you know, a council’s responsibility is to the constituents, it’s to the people, it’s to the citizens who are legal citizens, it’s to the people who are contributing to the community and allowing illegal aliens to come in that wouldn’t exactly say definitely that they would be contributing the same financial standpoint to the community yet requiring basic human services from the community would be sort of — it’s almost like when you’re parents tell you you’re asking, asking, asking, but you’re not giving. And I think that risks a major problem, at least for me.”

“Well said,” Councilman Frank Arena responded.

Pam Brug, who came to tell the council about the Facebook group that she co-moderates with Lydia Kaplan, Westfield Solidarity for Safety, said that becoming sanctuary city has nothing to do with financially supporting illegal immigrants.

“It has nothing to do with any economic law,” Brug said. “It has to do with keeping somebody who’s safe here, saying, ‘We are not going to ask you about your immigration status.’ So that I, as a physician, if I’m treating you, I do not say to you, ‘Are you here illegally?’ … In the school system, it would be the same thing. It has nothing to do with giving, or having funds to be a sanctuary city. It has more to do with saying, ‘You are in a safe place. We are not going to ask you about your citizenship.”

Most undocumented workers pay taxes, Brug said.

“That is a misnomer that they do not add to the economic status of our cities, towns and our nation. They add lot to it,” she said. “So it’s not that they’re taking, taking, taking. In fact, they’re giving us a lot. They’re giving us so much in their services and their work that none of us wants to do. And … for us to say, ‘You are safe in our community,’ I don’t think that’s a lot. This has nothing to do with money. This has to do with compassion.”

No resolution to make Westfield a sanctuary city was introduced at the meeting no formal action was taken.

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