Immigration activists protest after Camden County Democrats ignored pleas for help

What would it take to get Camden County Democrats to act boldly and decisively to protect immigrant communities? 

A diverse coalition of activists in Camden County has been working for months trying to get an answer to that question. The coalition includes: Faith in New Jersey, South Jersey Women for Progressive Change*, The Committee for Racial & Economic Equality (CREE) of the  Unitarian Universalist Church of Cherry Hill, The New Jersey Unitarian Universalist Faith in Action Group, and Multi-Faith Action for Social Justice. They’ve been working to get a Fair and Welcoming resolution passed and a public statement of support for municipal IDs.

After months of little movement from county freeholders, that activism bubbled over last Thursday into the monthly Camden County Freeholder meeting. Activists tired of being given the runaround in private took the issue public to demand the county take bold and decisive action to protect its immigrant population.

Public comment started out with a bang, with testimony after testimony imploring the freeholders to support the county’s struggling immigrant community.

That’s when it got crazy. Freeholder Lou Cappelli expressed confusion, saying the freeholder board hadn’t received any resolution on the issue and that they’d be happy to support one. Except it wasn’t true. Attorney Afia Yunus testified that the Freeholders had not only received the materials, but that the Freeholder lawyer had responded in a written letter, providing vague reasons that the county could not support the initiative rather than working with advocates to solve the problems.

Blue Jersey has received a copy of that letter.

Later, Edward McDonnell questioned whether municipal ID program would help immigrants or immigrants even wanted them. Christine Singh responded with a heartbreaking personal story of her own husband’s detention by ICE, tying that tragedy to the municipal ID issue.

The wider issue has some nuance: Camden County currently doesn’t use its resources in support of ICE officers — an informal policy that activists are asking them to make law — and in the past, the county has supported IDs. But immigration advocates argued that unofficial policies aren’t guarantees, and the lack of public support for municipal IDs from freeholders sends a mixed signal to municipalities considering the policy. The political courage to stand for these policies would be welcome support for immigrant communities living in an especially harsh political climate.

When the freeholders refused to move forward on these policies, the advocates were forced to take these concerns to a public meeting. The coalition had emailed nearly every freeholder individually. Only one freeholder met with the activists; a meeting that was cordial, but tokenistic. There was no follow-up after the meeting or attempt to address the concerns of the advocates, instead the freeholder’s lawyer responded with a dubiously argued letter explaining why such protections were not possible. There was no subsequent attempt to work with advocates to address these issues.

Most striking in all of this is that Democrats, in the time of Trump, would refuse to engage when a coalition of immigrants and progressives came forward with critical issues to support this vital part of our community, to the point that they felt it necessary to show up en masse to a public meeting after months of attempting to privately work with the freeholders.

The fight to ensure safety and support for our immigrant populations isn’t just with Trump and Republicans. It’s with Democrats like those in Camden County that receive a Fair and Welcoming Resolution from advocates and refuse to work together to ensure the immigrant population has the protection it deserves.

Hopefully the Camden County Freeholders will reconsider these issues. If they do, it will be in part because a coalition of immigrant activists and progressives shined a light on these needs when Freeholders were content to have their lawyer bury them.

The playlist below includes all the testimonies and the responses from the freeholders:

*my wife, Sue Altman, is a board member of South Jersey Women for Progressive Change.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *