By Pegi Adam, Lisa Korn, Jim Price, and Jessica Sporn
A group of Montclair residents worked tirelessly to persuade the Montclair Township Council to declare our town a “Sanctuary City,” joining many of our neighboring towns throughout New Jersey. We had high hopes that the Montclair Township Council would sieze the opportunity to capitalize on our town’s enviable reputation as one that welcomes diversity. Sadly, Resolution R-17-024, passed by the council on Feb. 21, falls far short of our hopes and expectations. It is the weakest of any resolution passed by other New Jersey towns .
Left unknown is this critical question: What kind of leadership will be provided to our manager in the event ICE demands the Montclair Police Department’s cooperation? Will the Township Council just sit by, with the excuse that they “have no power over the police?” Or, are we worried about losing federal funds, thus caving in to bullying (which we tell our students never to do)?
Where is our gumption? Where is our outrage at a government that exercises free rein to intrude on and disrupt the lives of people in our community who are contributing mightily to the quality of our lives, documented or not?
Nowhere is the word “sanctuary” used in the resolution. When a resident addressed the council on the absence of the word, he was told that “the words don’t really matter; it’s the spirit of the resolution.” He responded, correctly that “indeed words do matter.”
Words do matter; they are all we have to express our thoughts and ideas. Without precise words, verbiage such as that used in this resolution is merely sound and fury signifying nothing. How can it be that Montclair, a town that portrays itself as welcoming and embracing diverse racial, ethnic, religious and national origins, refuses to take a definitive stand as a protectorate of all those who live and work and attend school in our midst, regardless of their documentation.
The Township Council should be paying attention to recent arrests, as immigration agents “feel new freedom to deport immigrants.” (New York Times). In Virginia, ICE waited outside a church shelter where undocumented immigrants had gone to stay warm. In Texas and Colorado, agents sought out foreigners in courthouses where they had arrived for hearings on other matters. At Kennedy Airport, passengers arriving after a five-hour flight from San Francisco had to show their documents before being allowed to deplane. Muhammad Ali’s son was held and questioned after arriving from a trip to Jamaica. A children’s book author from Australia en route to a conference in Milwaukee was detained and insulted at LAX (she said she might never return to the U.S.). In West Frankfort, Ill., agents arrested a pillar of the community who had lived and operated a business there for 20 years. Residents were surprised and outraged. They thought the president only wanted to “get rid of the bad eggs.”
It can’t happen here? … Oh, yes it can. And what will tolerant Montclair’s response be when it does?