Local leaders take issue with immigration policies, president’s alleged remarks

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Historical Society of East Orange President Goldie Burbage and East Orange Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Reid both recently expressed dismay regarding U.S. immigration policy shifts and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s revocation of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, El Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and others, as well as the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented by former President Barack Obama.

The Historical Society of East Orange kicked off Black History Month by unveiling its traveling local history exhibit in the City Hall rotunda on Monday, Feb. 5. It moved from there to Calvary Baptist Church, then to the Clark School on Park Avenue, where it will be until Friday, Feb. 16. Its next scheduled stop is at Faith Temple OFW Baptist Church on Sunday, Feb. 18, and then it will be the East Orange Public Library from Friday, Feb. 23, to Wednesday, Feb. 28.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the great United States of America has elected a president who is uninformed, ill-informed and misinformed,” said Burbage, a native of Orange who has spent most of her adult life in East Orange, on Monday, Feb. 5. “I have no problem saying that I did not vote for him.”

Reid, who is also a member of the Historical Society of East Orange, emigrated from Jamaica to the United States in the 1970s and is a past president of the Jamaican Organization of New Jersey. Not surprisingly, he took exception to derogatory comments about Haiti and other countries allegedly made by Trump recently.

“I hail from Jamaica and I came to the United States in 1976 in January in a snowstorm, coming from the tropics,” said Reid on Monday, Feb. 5. “While the focus is on Haitians and Africa and some others as pertains to the president’s comments, as an African who happened to be from the Caribbean, in particular Jamaica, I am proud to be here. I’m proud to be one of those who answered the call to come to this country and work hard to contribute to its building and the development of the country. Immigrants have been doing that since the beginning of this country.”

Burbage agreed with Reid that people’s movements are very personal, the same way all politics are local.

“I can only relate to my experience here in the great city of East Orange. In the 1970s, they had what was called ‘The Interdiction,’ people were coming from Haiti in boats, they would land in Florida, initially they were turned back, sent back to Haiti,” she said. “I was with a group. We were called ‘Town and Country Women,’ responsible for meeting with the late Congressman Peter Rodino. We are listed in the congressional record as having aided the people who came from Haiti. We provided food, clothing, etc., for them and, incidentally, at that time, is when the population in the great city of East Orange started to change.”

Burbage said the influx of immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries changed the face of East Orange.

“As you know, we have many wonderful apartment houses and the individuals from Haiti came and settled in East Orange in large numbers, to the extent that, when William S. Hart was the mayor of … East Orange, we sent out homemakers so that they could help the individuals that came from Haiti to adjust to living in apartment complexes,” Burbage said. “Most of them came with (a) husband and wife, maybe one or two children and, in a short span of time, we would find that were seven or eight people. So I’ve lived through that. I know what it’s all about and we in East Orange and in America welcome those people who came from the islands.”

Reid agreed with Burbage regarding the cultural and social impact recent immigration trends have had on East Orange, but added their economic impact cannot be ignored.

And according to Burbage, former Mayor Robert Bowser traveled extensively in Africa during his administration and cultivated international trade and economic development relations with many sovereign countries, because he recognized the value in keeping with the tradition of American capitalism.

Reid said he hopes the Trump administration doesn’t forget those lessons in its rush to “make America great again.”