In the wake of Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, Union City has started an ID program to help local residents get municipal services and attend local programs. The ID will not allow people to vote.
The number of residents who came to Town Hall to fill out applications on March 1 quickly approached 500 only a half hour after the applications opened, according to an anonymous city official who spoke with a reporter.
“We didn’t expect it was going to be this large of a turnout.” – Lt. John Loaces
This exceeded the building’s occupancy limit, forcing the city to shut the process down two and a half hours earlier than planned. They reopened the process all day the next day, and will continue to sign people up from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We didn’t expect it was going to be this large of a turnout,” said Police Lieutenant John Loaces, as he informed arriving residents the clerk’s office wouldn’t accept any more applications for the day.
The cards are free and available for all residents ages 14 and up, regardless of immigration status. They will allow residents to access public services such as libraries, pools, and parks. The city is working closely with local businesses and banks to get them to use the ID’s as well.
As for voting, “Voting laws are set by the state,” said Director of Operations Erin Knoedler. “We still have to follow the state laws. These are just local ID’s.”
The program started in the wake of the president’s announcements about cracking down on undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. Two weeks ago, Union City said it will be a “sanctuary city,” meaning officials will not direct police to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who are randomly looking for immigrants. (They will still help look for a suspect in a serious crime.)
Undocumented immigrants aren’t all people who slipped into the country illegally. Some got a work permit for a job and then lost the job. Some are foreign students who stayed longer, and some were visitors who had a child while in this country.
On the second floor, the lucky residents who managed to get inside before the cut off stretched from one end of the hall to the other.
Many were afraid to speak, even anonymously, to a reporter. The ones who did made it clear they were signing up for protection from the president’s initiatives.
“I’m signing up because of what could happen, what the president could do,” said one applicant waiting on the pre-ID line, who requested anonymity. “You don’t know, and you live without knowing what could happen to you. Today, he says something; tomorrow he says something worse.”
“I’m signing up to be sure, and to have something that can identify myself with the state of New Jersey,” said another anonymous resident waiting on line with her daughter, who admitted she is undocumented.
Of the president, she said, “We’re very afraid. I’m very grateful for the Union City mayor for his help and protection and assurance that he gives to the residents.”
“It’s amazing,” Mayor Brian Stack said of the higher than expected turnout, when he visited at an immigrant rights seminar that same day (see sidebar). “By word of mouth, we gave out 1,000 applications today. The line went out the door.”
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Union City hosts immigrants’ rights seminar
During an immigrant rights seminar a few hours after the municipal ID program launched, Mayor Brian Stack passionately told residents the city would do their best to protect them from immigrations officials.
“If I didn’t say this tonight, it would bother me,” Stack said. “You have nothing to be ashamed of. You have done nothing wrong. You’re good, hardworking people, and that’s why were holding this meeting. You’re not only welcome in Union City, I want you to know, as a government in Union City, the board of education, all of our agencies are here to serve you and help you. We don’t care if you have documents, if you don’t have documents. You know why? You’re a person, just like I am.”
Stack referred to a “monster” without identifying anyone specifically. “You know why I’m proud to be the mayor of Union City?” he said. “I say this from my heart. On my mother and father, because of people like you. We’ll overcome the monster that’s doing what he does to you. We’ll overcome that. That, I can guarantee you.”
At the seminar, the city also revealed plans to distribute immigration advice packets for residents. The packets will provide information on safe haven locations throughout the city for undocumented immigrants, information on how to protect themselves, and what to do and say when confronted by immigration agents. They will be distributed in local schools, public buildings, and Town Hall starting March 10.