Town residents look on during the Feb. 22 Montclair Township Council meeting, in which the council approved a resolution to declare the township a “welcoming community” for immigrants.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The announcement that the Trump administration was planning to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is causing concern in Montclair, including from the township’s Civil Rights Commission.

In late August, it was announced that DACA would be phased out over the next six months. An estimated 800,000 people could be affected as a result.

DACA provides protection to people who were brought to the United States as young children, including protection from being deported, and allows them to enroll in college, enter the workforce or join the military.

Joe Kavesh is a member of the Montclair Board of Education, and the chair of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission.

“The Civil Rights Commission opposes discrimination of any kind, and is concerned whenever civil rights and due process are in jeopardy,” Kavesh said last week. But the discussion over DACA spoke to the need for a more permanent resolution for immigration-related issues, he said. “It is embarrassing that Congress can’t figure this issue out. Immigration is now a ‘wedge’ issue in this country. Politicians are playing to their bases, rather than consensus building,” he said. “I would hope that Senators [Cory] Booker and [Robert] Menendez will reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to pass much-needed immigration reform, such as the current iteration of the DREAM Act.”

During last week’s BOE meeting, Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak announced that the district was carefully monitoring the situation with DACA. “We’re doing that in the interest of our students and school district,” she said.

Pinsak said on Tuesday that the district did not have any information about the number of students in the district whose families may be affected if DACA is rescinded.

Christa Rapoport is the Civil Rights Commission’s vice chair. What she would like to see, she said, is for Congress to move ahead with a permanent version of DACA.

Rapoport said that DACA came about as an executive order because then-President Barack Obama had been blocked in all other efforts to introduce protections for the children of undocumented families.

She said there was a concerted effort in Montclair, including in the police department and the board of education, not to inquire about residents’ immigration status. She also noted that the commission had been working closely with the schools’ central office, and with Pinsak, on the matter, and that she was gratified by the district’s attention to the issue.

The commission is limited in what it would be able to do regarding an official response to the phasing out of DACA. “We can be vigilant, we can keep watching,” Rapoport said. She also said that she would be meeting with a lawyer with expertise on immigration law.

“We’ve been watching this for some time, because we’re all disturbed,” Rapoport said.

Earlier this year, an ordinance was proposed to make Montclair a sanctuary city. The township ended up passing a resolution to declare Montclair as a “welcoming community,” prompted in part by threats by the federal government to withhold funding from sanctuary cities.

On Monday, Montclair State University President Susan Cole sent a letter to New Jersey’s Congressional delegation. In the letter, Cole wrote that the university strongly supported DACA and urged the state’s representatives to do what was possible to restore it.

“We are talking about children who have grown up in our neighborhoods and gone to our schools; children who have been the friends of our children and studied with them and played baseball with them; children who have grown up celebrating Thanksgiving and Independence Day with us; children who have now grown into young adults, contributing in many ways to our communities and willing to work hard to prepare themselves for a constructive role in the state and the nation that they have long called their home,” Cole wrote.

Montclair-based Blue Wave NJ posted this statement on its website on Sept. 6: “The children that DACA protects were children who were brought here when they were so young they had no choice in the matter. They have grown up here in the United States and they have no home other than the United States. We cannot allow so many innocent children to suffer under our watch.”

Sen. Cory Booker issued this statement soon after the announcement that DACA would be rescinded: “Today’s decision is a moral catastrophe that should shake us all to the core. The President of the United States has decided to tear apart hundreds of thousands of families and target hardworking young people who were brought to this country by their parents. In addition, President Trump is violating the trust that DREAMers placed in the U.S. government when they came forward to comply with the law and apply for DACA.”