Three weeks before President Donald Trump’s sweeping ban on people from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States, Maplewood’s municipal government took unanimous action to protect undocumented immigrants from being rounded up by the federal government.
On Jan. 3, the Township Committee voted 5-0 to prevent local police and other agencies from assisting federal law enforcement agencies in identifying or arresting immigrants who commit misdemeanors, such as speeding or public intoxication.
Avowing a commitment to “equal, respectful, and dignified treatment of all people, regardless of their immigration status,” the resolution also prohibits the police from taking “any actions that profile individuals or groups” based on race, religion, or national origin.
The resolution was introduced in 2016 by Ian Grodman, a former member of the Township Committee before he left office on Dec. 31 of last year. Grodman practices immigration law in Manhattan. He said that under the resolution, individuals cannot be questioned about their immigration status or arrested for it, unless they are suspected of, and could be indicted for, committing a felony.
“We are a welcoming community which offers dignified and equal treatment to everyone,” said Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca. “We have no intention of being federal agents.
“We are quite clear. We are not going to register people. We are not going to profile people. We have the police on board. Clearly, the job of the police is to enforce local criminal law and that is what they are going to do,” he told NJJN.
DeLuca promised that the township would go to court to fight any federal orders to identify undocumented people who live or work in Maplewood. Neither he nor any other Maplewood official has an estimate of how many people that might affect.
To another immigration lawyer, Andrew Fair of nearby South Orange, the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants “has reverberations back to Nazi Germany,” where Jews who thought they were part of German society “were considered to be like aliens who needed to be removed. But because there are at least 10 million people in this country illegally, kicking them out is not a good thing. It would be like a bloodbath,” he said.
Rabbi Jesse Olitsky of Congregation Beth El of South Orange agreed with the dangers of discriminatory immigration practices.
“We as Jews who have wandered understand the fears immigrants have. The Jewish community is trying to find more ways to be a safe haven for refugees,” he said.
Johanna Calle, program coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, told NJJN that her immigrant rights organization expects increased demands from the federal government for local police to aid their hunt for undocumented people. She urged local governments to find ways to resist doing so.
Calle said cities should consider “not only how they will not collaborate with the federal government, but also what they will be putting up a firewall against, because we know these requests will be coming.”
However, Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and a supporter of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, cautioned against breaking laws to protect immigrants.
“Respectful and dignified treatment of all people does not mean that we should not enforce laws against people when they violate them, including our immigration laws,” he said.
Mehlman’s organization seeks to “reduce overall immigration” and thinks that people in the country without legal permission create an undue burden on the nation’s educational and social service systems.
In an email to NJJN on the Maplewood resolution, Mehlman wrote that “nobody is asking Maplewood to act as federal agents, register people, or profile anyone,” and that the Trump administration’s efforts are aimed at local policies that “impede or obstruct federal immigration enforcement.”
He also rejected comparison of the Jewish immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century to the modern-day immigrants who are affected by the ban. These Jewish immigrants to the United States “did not subscribe to ideologies that could be described as dangerous or hateful,” Mehlman said.
Asked whether the ban on Muslim immigrants from Arab countries runs counter to the Jewish mandate to “welcome the stranger,” Mehlman wrote that limiting immigration is not an inherent form of discrimination. “Welcoming the stranger does not mean that we have to accommodate unlimited numbers of people,” he said. “We must treat people with respect and dignity, but we must also require them to obey our laws.”