Union City has become the second municipality in Hudson County (after Jersey City) to designate itself a sanctuary city in the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order pressuring municipalities to report undocumented immigrants. The Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution establishing the city as a sanctuary at its Feb. 7 meeting. The mayor of Jersey City had signed an order to become the first on Friday, Feb. 3.
Although there is technically no legal definition of a “sanctuary city” certain towns have gone on the record in the last few decades as saying they won’t ask their police to cooperate with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in detaining undocumented persons, unless they are involved in serious crime.
According to the resolution, “The city of Union City and its agents shall not expend any time, funds, or resources on facilitating the civil enforcement of federal immigration law nor participating in civil immigration enforcement operations, except where legally required to do so by state or federal law or regulation or directive or court order.”
“We thank the undocumented,” Mayor Brian Stack said during the meeting. “If it wasn’t for the undocumented reporting crimes, whether they’re the victim of a crime or they ‘see something, say something,’ our crime would be much higher in the city.”
“For a city with so many different religious backgrounds, so many ethnic backgrounds, everyone gets along so well,” he added. “We’re very proud of the immigrant population. [If] the president wants to look at a city and how well it gets along and how well people are functioning together, he should look no further than Union City.”
Worries about Trump
Though residents appeared supportive of the measure, one expressed concerns.
“The fact of the matter is, we have a president who’s a little on the crazy side,” Larry Price, 79, said to the commissioners during the public comment section, “and who takes personal offense at any pushback. I wonder if this is wise. I’m told that the monies that we get directly from the federal government are very modest, so the possibilities of repercussion are limited. But they’re still there. This puts an x on the back of the city.”
“I don’t believe that the president of the United States could make local police enforce immigration laws that are supposed to be federally enforced,” Stack said in response. “Second, I don’t believe the court system will allow it. I think that common sense will prevail, and they won’t allow it.”
“I feel proud to live in a place where we are declaring that this is a sanctuary city,” said Colleen Canyon, co-director for Hudson Civic Action, a group of Hudson County residents who work to remain engaged in the democratic process. “I appreciate the formality.”
Municipal ID established
The commissioners also introduced an ordinance establishing a municipal identification card program for the city. At a public hearing on Feb. 21, the commissioners will take a final vote.
According to Director of Operations Erin Knoedler, the cards will be available to any and all city residents ages 14 and up, regardless of immigration status. They will allow locals to access local government agencies, libraries, pools, parks, and other services. If passed, the program will begin rolling out on March 1. Interested residents will have to fill out applications at the town clerk’s office.
“We’re hoping to work with businesses to see if they’ll accept the ID,” Knoedler said after the meeting. She also revealed the city had been in talks with New York City, which already has such a program in place, for assistance.
NJ Sanctuary Cities
Earlier in the day, Stack had joined fellow Hudson legislators Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, and local imams at Town Hall. They introduced legislation in Trenton to protect New Jersey cities identifying as sanctuary cities. Bill S3007 would create a program to offer supplementary state funding to any sanctuary cities that lose federal funding from the Trump administration’s recent executive order.
“You can’t force the municipalities to do a job of federal law enforcement.” – Brian Stack
“This legislation basically protects sanctuary cities,” Stack told the small audience in the town hall’s parking garage. “Union City has technically always been a sanctuary city. Speaking as the mayor of Union City, we’ve never, ever turned anybody away due to their status, undocumented or documented. We don’t even ask for that when people come in for help.”
The senator added that under current federal law, he was confident President Trump couldn’t cut federal funding from any U.S. city, “without good reason. Not for being a sanctuary city.”
“You can’t force the municipalities to do a job of federal law enforcement,” he added. “And we won’t do that in Union City. “
“What we’re doing with this legislation, we’re making a statement,” said Mukherji, the only South Asian lawmaker in the state. “The mayors and police chiefs throughout the state, their citizens, their records come first. Public safety comes first. People, because of their documentation status, don’t need to fear coming forward to ask for assistance from their city government. They don’t need to live in fear.”
“I served in the Marine Corps with people who were not yet American citizens,” he said, “who, regardless of the color of their skin, or the country of their birth, bled the same color as anyone who was born here, as anyone who has American nationality.”
“It is our responsibility to show these measures and these communities who are protecting their own that they should not fear federal funding cuts,” he said. “Because if this president, who might not care about a silly thing like the Constitution, even though the 10th Amendment says that the federal government cannot force local jurisdictions to implement federal law, even if you ignore the Constitution and cut federal funding from these municipalities, the state of New Jersey has your back.”
“We stand united for all our residents,” said Chaparro. “This is the right decision for our community. Undocumented does not mean criminal. Undocumented residents work hard. They’re a part of our community, they contribute. You see them on the bus stops. They’re in your homes, they take care of your children, they’re in our restaurants. They are everywhere. We need them. They work with us. They cry, they love, they give life. We stand very strong, and we will not forget them.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com