Immigration Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Part V More on New Jersey

The poet Walt Whitman who lived for part of his life in Camden called America “a nation of nations.” Indeed, such can be said about New Jersey, with almost 50% of its residents being born abroad or having ties to parents or grandparents born in another country. The Statue of Liberty’s message calls out for the best in us in our state, but its message here is yet to be fulfilled. With an antagonistic Trump regime we are left in New Jersey to our  own resources.

In Part IV on what we can do in New Jersey we wrote about college financial aid, driver licenses, municipal ID’s and medical matters. Below are other measures we can take.

Raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing earned sick leave, and strengthening workplace protections. Gov. Murphy promised these changes. Like a rising tide raises all boats, these changes benefit working people not just immigrants. We need to continue efforts to achieve these goals.

Sanctuary or Welcoming Cities: Municipal officials in communities with large immigrant populations have been moving to protect their residents by declaring themselves as sanctuary or welcoming cities. Sanctuary cities legally tend to limit the extent to which they cooperate with federal immigration agents. These include Asbury Park, Camden, East Orange, Jersey City, Linden, New Brunswick, Newark, North Bergen, Plainfield, Trenton and Union City. Welcoming cities, like Princeton, say they are striving to be more inclusive of immigrant communities. The rules and policies of these municipalities vary. While they serve to protect immigrants they still cooperate with immigration authorities when dealing with serious criminals. AG Jeff Sessions has been withholding some funding from these cities, but many states, including NJ, have joined California in a lawsuit to prevent this. Gov. Murphy has said he’s open to making New Jersey a sanctuary state. Particularly in high immigrant areas, it is important to urge your mayor and councilpersons to adopt one of these two policies.

287(G) Agreements of counties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): The agreements deputize local law enforcement to act as ICE officers and participate in the processing and deportation immigrant communities. These agreements requires the county to carry out Trump’s Executive Order 13768, targeting nearly all immigrants, including those whom have been merely charged but not convicted of a crime, and those whom ICE merely suspects of criminal activity. After a push from advocates, Hudson County ended its ICE agreement. Activists should advocate that the three other counties, Monmouth, Salem, and Cape May, which hold 287(G) agreements, terminate them.

Legal defense: Gov. Murphy promised protection for immigrants. Unlike criminal cases where there is a public defender to provide free legal service to those who cannot afford it, such is not permitted in immigration courts where youth and non-English speaking people are left defenseless unless they can afford a lawyer. Gov. Murphy calls for an Office of Immigration Protection to provide “legal services to any New Jersey resident including Green Card holders and refugees facing detention and potential deportation and whose rights are being denied by federal overreach.” He has $2 million in his budget for this purpose. Lets get this done. ACLU NJ says, “Providing universal representation for all people at risk of deportation gets us closer to ensuring that due process isn’t just an ideal, but a guarantee.

ICE arrests in and around court houses: This is one form of overreach, something never done under the Obama administration. Immigration enforcement agents are arresting immigrants in and around court houses, which makes immigrants fearful about attending any court appearances. NJ’s Chief Justice sent a letter of protest to the Trump Justice Department to no avail. Clad in fluorescent yellow vests, armed with pamphlets listing immigrants’ rights a small group of activists patrol the outside of a municipal court in North Brunswick. Led by Seth Kaper-Dale, they look out for SUV’s with possible ICE officers, and warn immigrants inside and outside the court about ICE’s presence and capture footage on their phones of any arrests. This would be particularly worthwhile in Newark where the state’s largest immigrant court holds session (see picture left), but it’s equally useful at any municipal court where an immigrant may go to pay some minor traffic violation ticket and there are ICE agents lurking around.

Immigration Detention Centers: A February report documented these centers are replete with maggots, often unnecessary and prolonged, the conditions are harsh and inhumane, medical care is often inadequate and delayed, and adequate mental health care is oten unavailable or difficult to access. Three counties, Bergen, Essex and Hudson, lease out jail space to federal immigration authorities. The Hudson County jail has been under scrutiny since June, when Carlos Mejia-Bonilla, a 44-year-old immigration detainee from El Salvador, was rushed from the jail to Jersey City Medical Center, where he died the next day. Activists must hold the county officials of these jails accountable and insist on better treatment. (Building on the left is partially used as the Essex detention Center.)


New Jersey has seen one of the nation’s biggest surges in arrests by ICE agents under Trump, and arrests of N.J. immigrants without criminal records more than doubled in 2017. Nonetheless, ‘undocumented and unafraid’ immigrants chanting ‘No papers, no fear!’ recently marched on ICE headquarters in Newark (pictured left). We have to keep up the pressure.

In the final Part VI we will write about federal policies including DACA  and comprehensive immigration reform.

To access all articles in the series go to the SEARCH function above and enter: Immigration Yesterday Today Tomorrow  or click on the slider on the front page when you see the immigration series featured.

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