Council and residents weigh their stand on immigration

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Five residents who signed the petition for a borough resolution declaring Glen Ridge a sanctuary city gather in the home of Lynn Vande Stouwe to discuss the issue of undocumented immigrants. From left, Tim King, Mark Robertson, Marisela Santiago, Vande Stouwe and Megan Giulianelli.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — A petition signed by 501 residents to declare Glen Ridge a “sanctuary city” has prompted the borough council into writing a resolution to provide some protection for undocumented immigrants. Two members of the council say the resolution is now being prepared.

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Councilman Peter Hughes said he supports the petition. It was presented to the council March 27.

“We’re not using the term ‘sanctuary city,’” he said. “We’re using ‘welcoming city.’”

Hughes said the council is working on the language of the resolution. It had also begun reviewing similar resolutions written in Maplewood, Montclair, and Bloomfield, after they had heard that a group of residents were planning to confront the council with a petition of their own on March 27.

“The entire council has been considering this,” he said. “We had a heads up that it was coming and we had some background. I think we’ll come up with some language for what it’s intended to be.”

In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring “sanctuary city” a designation that violated federal law.

The petition that the council had heard about, initiated by about two dozen Glen Ridge residents, stated that “as a Sanctuary City, Glen Ridge will commit to the following protections for all immigrants: Glen Ridge and Glen Ridge police will not: be deputized to enforce any immigration policy; inquire as to immigration/citizenship status; maintain records or issue reports on immigration/citizenship status.”

On Tuesday, April 4, at the home of resident Lynn Vande Stouwe, four additional signers of the petition voiced their concern. They were Marisela Santiago, Tim King, Mark Robertson and Megan Giulianelli.

Giulianelli said Glen Ridge residents cannot fix the problems of federal immigration laws.
“But as residents, we have to stand up for our values,” she said. “Whoever lives, works, plays, eats, stays in Glen Ridge, they’re welcomed as long as they haven’t broken any laws.”

King, an attorney, said he was a firm believer of innocence until proven guilty.
“The current status of Immigration and Customs Enforcement referrals is that an undocumented citizen isn’t afforded the presumption of innocence,” he said. “Basically, it’s a two-tiered system of justice.”

Councilman Dan Murphy said the council was working on a resolution that would not go as far as declaring Glen Ridge a sanctuary city. It would be a welcoming city.
“There’s a difference,” he said. “We’ll abide by the attorney general’s rules on how to handle undocumented immigrants. A sanctuary city would protect criminals.”

According to the NJ attorney general’s directive, the arrest of an suspected undocumented immigrant, for an indictable offense, must be reported to federal authorities.

Murphy said the council was sensitive to the needs of the petition signers and undocumented workers in Glen Ridge.

“It’s my understanding those people are largely employed and came to America to better their lives,” he said.

The AG’s directive also says that local law officers cannot investigate or inquire as to the immigration status of any witness to a crime, or a victim. But King said when a number of the petitioners met with Glen Ridge Police Chief Sheila Byron-Lagattuta, she said an investigation was held up because an undocumented immigrant, who was a witness to an accidental death, was afraid to speak to the police.

“The current policy of the of the Glen Ridge Police Department has to be addressed,” King said. “They report to immigration authorities.”

But Vande Stouwe said Byron-Lagattuta wants immigrants to feel comfortable coming to the police with evidence.
“Her view is that they follow the law,” said Robertson.

Byron-Lagattuta was contacted for this story but did not respond by deadline.
While Hughes thought the resolution would be ready for the next council meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 10, Murphy did not think so.

Though the wording of the resolution addressed the petition, a concern he had was that nothing be resolved that could risk federal funding.
“As far as the police are concerned, it’s status quo,” he said. “We’re not going to direct the police department to ignore the attorney general’s laws. I don’t think anyone on the council would want a sanctuary city.”

Santiago said she was born in Puerto Rico and feels that she has a foot in the world of an American citizen and of an immigrant. She said a resolution was a great first step but a dialogue among residents was needed.

“I hope this makes residents see this as a Glen Ridge issue,” she said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of undocumented residents that raise our children and do our landscaping. They’re not disposable. They should be able to feel safe. I had a couple of people call me when they got into an accident and they were terrified. With the political climate,we have to determine what type of community we want to be.”

Guilianelli said more towns had to do what Glen Ridge was doing to put pressure on the federal government for immigration reform.

“Everyone knows we need that,” she said. Eleven million people cannot just disappear. You can’t rip them from their families. It’s not the America we love.”
King said the immigration issue is a fight that has to be fought.

“There’s been a broad grant of discretion over a spectrum of people,” he said. “This grant produces a system ripe for abuse. That’s where the conversation needs to go.”