East Orange Approves Sanctuary City Resolution

(Photo via Reporte Hispano)

(Photo via Reporte Hispano)

On Monday, Dec. 19, the municipality of East Orange, in Essex County, New Jersey, decided to lend its ears to the immigrants living among its mostly African-American population of 64,945 – as estimated in 2015 – by approving a resolution to declare it a sanctuary city.

This, in the face of President-elect Donald Trump’s announced intentions to cut the flow of federal funding for towns which have declared or choose to declare themselves sanctuary cities inside the United States.

Local Council member Chris James told Reporte Hispano that the anti-immigrant policies announced by the mogul pushed the body to introduce the resolution. “The next step is to make it a municipal ordinance, which we expect to do in the Jan. 19 session,” said James.

The initiative came from a group of local organizations and immigrants concerned about the uncertainty brought about by the proposed measures.

Nena, an Uruguayan woman who has lived in the area for 16 years and who offered her testimony in front of the council, looked enthusiastic after learning of the proposal’s approval, saying that she believes that the city cares about its residents.

“It is important because we feel protected and supported by the city. They are giving us some sort of security so that we can live without fear of immigration authorities,” said Nena, who had her mother Alejandra by her side.

Rossana Rodríguez, from the Laundry Workers Center, who also spoke at the council, said that East Orange is a diverse city created by immigrants and people of color and that its population is 80 percent immigrant. “That is why we want to create a community free of all intimidation and repression. We don’t know yet what kind of decisions the federal government is going to take, so it is very important for us to create an environment where people feel safe in this community,” she added.

On the other hand, she said that the city still has not thought about issuing a municipal ID due to the controversy regarding the fate of the personal data of immigrants collected when they apply for the document, as has been seen in New York City.

Craig García, from the NJ Working Families Alliance, was behind the creation of the initiative, which started as soon as Trump was elected. He mentioned that the next step will be to work with the city’s mayor and police chief to implement an ordinance.

“For example, we should be sure that the local police will not cooperate with any immigration raid or support ICE by using city resources or in their investigations,” he said.

The activist said that they expect to replicate the resolution and ordinance in other cities, but that the end goal is to create a piece of legislation to declare New Jersey a sanctuary state.

“We are beginning with East Orange and hoping to do the same with other towns. Still, while it is a good local law in favor of the sanctuary, it needs teeth: We need fixed policies,” he added.

To that effect, he said that other sanctuary cities – whether they have been declared or not, such as Passaic, Paterson, Newark and Union City, among others – should take more concrete steps to benefit their immigrants.

García said that cities should refuse to enforce immigration laws, saying it is not their job; that municipalities and counties put policies in place to prevent immigrants from being treated in a discriminatory manner or asked about their immigration status; and that local police departments have a protocol to certify U visas by vouching for people who have been victims of crimes or cooperated in an investigation.

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