“Sanctuary cities” are becoming a hot-button issue. Union City and Jersey City recently declared themselves “sanctuary cities” to stand up to President Donald Trump’s executive orders. These are municipalities that refuse to work with federal immigration agents to locate undocumented immigrants in their jurisdictions, unless they’ve committed a serious crime.
But would passing such a declaration be politically prudent in more homogeneous Secaucus?
At the Secaucus Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14, a local resident urged council members to declare Secaucus a sanctuary city like their neighbors.
“My ancestors arrived in Hudson County in the late 1600s,” said Michele LaRue during the citizens’ remarks section. “When my husband and I moved to Secaucus in 1976, most everyone was Polish or Italian-maybe Irish, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants. Secaucus today is a rich alphabet soup of Gomez, Ngo, Cho, Patel, and LaRue. We work together, play together, raise our children together. We’re all immigrants. And we look out for each other.”
LaRue’s plea was part of a larger desire to have all of Hudson County declared a sanctuary, she said.
“I understand that to date, North Bergen, Jersey City, and Union City have declared themselves sanctuary cities,” she added, although it’s not the case with North Bergen.
She shared an email she sent to local Freeholder Anthony Vainieri on Feb. 6 regarding the issue. His response: “I will discuss with county executive and freeholders. I believe that we would have to get all 12 mayors to agree before we can say that Hudson is one.”
Mayor Michael Gonnelli told LaRue that he would speak with her via phone the following day. But when pressed by a reporter to give an answer, he didn’t take an official position.
“I really do not have a response yet,” Gonnelli said. “But I will talk to [LaRue] about it in detail.”
Gonnelli had declined to choose a side when asked about the issue by the Reporter earlier in the month as well.
Cities that declare themselves sanctuaries may lose federal aid, federal officials have said.
Gonnelli may not have the political support for the measure that mayors do in more diverse towns. While Hudson County is largely Democratic, Secaucus shows a more even split. According to the town’s 2016 general election results from the voting machines, Democrat Hillary Clinton edged out Donald Trump by a vote of 3,840 to 3,032.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, who lives in Secaucus, did not respond to several phone calls and emails asking for comment on the matter. His response will be printed when he responds.
Remembering a legend
The meeting also started with a prayer for Paul Amico. The former longtime Secaucus Mayor, known for steering the town’s industry toward rapid development, died Feb. 9 at 103 years old.
He served as mayor for 27 years, from 1963 to 1990.
Many of the council members at the meeting were pallbearers for his funeral, which had happened earlier in the day.
Of Amico, Councilman Robert Constantino said, “He was a Secaucus treasure. As a kid I remember he met my family. Then fast-forward to when I came on the council and we met at his house, in his basement, called ‘The Bunker.’ It was a moment frozen in time. It was just something that was amazing to witness.”
“Secaucus today is a rich alphabet soup of Gomez, Ngo, Cho, Patel, and LaRue.” -- Michele LaRue
“He had this filing system,” he said. “He literally had these index cards with everyone’s name. It had my father’s name, my mother’s name, me and my brother’s name. If my brother went off to college, it had a little note on there that he went to college. He was way ahead of his time, and there was obviously no computers [then]. This is how he kept track. He felt like he knew everyone, and took time to stop and meet everyone.”
At the meeting, Mayor Gonnelli announced that Secaucus received a $20,000 grant from the federal Recreational Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities (ROID) program. The grant will help establish a new recreational program enacting activities for the benefit and development of disabled youth in the town and their peers.
He also announced plans for the town to install a statue of a patrolman on duty, which will be modeled after a similar statue in Michigan.
“The statue [in Michigan] will be a mere example of what a Secaucus cop looks like,” Gonnelli said. “It’ll be an actual Secaucus patrolman. He’ll say Secaucus on his shirt, his badge will say Secaucus, the hat will say Secaucus, and it’s life-sized. There’s two children and the cop. I have a feeling it’s going to go in front of the town hall. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’d like that spot. It’s a dedication to the patrolman in town.”
Gonnelli added that he came up with the idea. Brodin Studios, a company that makes memorial sculptures for fallen police officers, is currently crafting the statue in Minnesota. The town expects to have it by April or May at the latest, Gonnelli said.
The meeting also saw the emotional return of Councilwoman Susan Pirro, after doctors diagnosed her with cancer in November. While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Pirro missed two meetings in November, and one in December; she was completely absent from the chamber last month.
During her absences, she called in to vote on resolutions and ordinances. Pirro thanked citizens for sending her well wishes during her recovery. She is currently waiting for imaging tests in a few weeks, which will determine whether or not her cancer has gone into remission.
“The doctors are positive about my prognosis,” Pirro said.
“They bombarded me with treatments. I’m happy to be back. I did always stay in touch with the guys; the mayor cheeked in on me the other day. I stayed in touch via email. I responded to residents if they emailed me. There was a period of time where I was really very ill from the treatments, so I was a little bit out of touch. My white cell count was too low.”
After the meeting, Pirro also offered her take on LaRue’s sanctuary city request, appearing somewhat sympathetic.
“I don't know that we have many people who are not residents here,” she said. “I don't know that we would have many. But I understand her point; I understand how she would have to get all the mayors on board. But we would have to discuss it as a group.”
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