Two weeks ago, at the Feb. 14 council meeting, Secaucus resident Michele LaRue urged officials to adopt legislation making the town a “sanctuary city.” Sanctuary cities are municipalities that refuse to work with federal immigration agents to locate undocumented immigrants in their jurisdictions, unless they’ve committed a serious crime. Union City and Jersey City recently declared themselves “sanctuary cities” to stand up to Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, fearing that others will be detained in the process.
But at the most recent council meeting on Feb. 28, two other residents spoke against the idea, and Mayor Michael Gonnelli confirmed the town will not become a sanctuary city.
Union City and Jersey City have a large Democratic contingent and a significant immigrant population, but Secaucus is different.
“It was deplorable.” – Mayor Gonnelli, on park equipment
Don Evanson, 80, said, “The government officials in these sanctuary cities have instructed police and employees to ignore and avoid compliance with federal efforts to locate illegal immigrants. In effect, they're aiding and abetting.”
Evanson argued that whenever Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents come to certain cities with arrest warrants for undocumented immigrants, “local police are duty-bound to apply and enforce the laws. We're all immigrants, except probably American Indians. We've all come from other places—grandparents and great-grandparents. Law-abiding immigrants take time to study and pass a citizenship test. They're sworn in as rightful citizens, with the rights of U.S. citizens. Sanctuary city officials seem to lump illegal and legal immigrants in the same legal classification. For many decades, this has not been the view of the federal government.”
After the meeting, Mayor Michael Gonnelli said, “We had one person here last time that spoke in favor of it. I've gotten emails from several residents that are against it, that we shouldn't be a sanctuary city. Quite honestly, and I'll say it on the record—we're not going to be a sanctuary city. We follow the attorney general rules. If somebody's convicted of a crime, they get pulled over, if they're illegal, they call who they have to call. Parking tickets, no. But DWI, they get checked. We're sticking to the attorney general rules.”
According to the New Jersey attorney general’s rules, local police are to inquire about one’s immigration status only if the individual has committed, or is suspected of having committed, a serious crime. If they suspect the person is undocumented, they are to contact ICE.
Gonnelli's maneuver might have been a political chess move in arguably the most conservative town in Hudson County--especially during a mayoral election year.
Undocumented immigrants are not all people who sneaked across the U.S. border. Some may have come in as children to visit relatives, and some may have gotten a work visa for a job and then been laid off.
At the meeting, the council also passed resolutions to purchase and install new playground equipment at the Milridge Preschool, a public school located at 40 Milridge Road, and Snipes Park, located near Meadowlands Parkway. The upgrades are part of a plan to renovate every playground in the town over the last seven years. These two playgrounds are the final parts of that effort, according to Gonnelli. They will receive synthetic turf and regular curbing surrounding their perimeters.
Officials provided renderings of what both playgrounds will look like. “The reason we're doing this is because the school over there is going to need a playground, and it’s a good place to put one,” Gonnelli said.
“And Snipes, we had a playground there years ago. It was deplorable. So we're putting this in.”
The money to upgrade the two playgrounds is coming from a tax the town created this year, called the open space tax.
“We asses every resident a penny per thousand,” Gonnelli said. “This money's coming out of that. We collected about $300,000 in that account. Seventy percent of that comes from the commercial areas. So when that money comes in, we assess that money to put it into parks and playgrounds.”
The installations for each park will run around $75,000 each, Gonnelli said. Work is supposed to be completed by April.
The councilmembers also gave a plaque to Daniel J. Castro, facility manager for the town's Staples Fulfillment Center, for his “contributions and continues support of our community.” According to Gonnelli, Castro has donated “cleaning supplies, office supplies, everything you think of, he donates” to Town Hall.
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