Sanctuary City Designation Packs Hopewell Borough Council Meeting

    Well over a hundred local residents showed up to the Hopewell Borough Council meeting Thursday night in response to the Borough’s designation as sanctuary city. By resolution passed last month, after a split 3-3 Council vote with Mayor Paul Anzano voting as tie-breaker in favor of the designation, the Borough joined the ranks as another sanctuary city. Concerned citizens represented both ends of the spectrum in terms of support or opposition to the resolution.

    The Borough’s Sanctuary City resolution provides that Hopewell Borough, as a “welcoming community that serves and protects its residents regardless of immigration status,” will continue to make its services available to all residents, and the Borough will not inquire about a resident’s immigration status in providing municipal services or in the course of law enforcement, except in connection with crimes of a violent and threatening nature.

    Assemblyman Reed Gusciora listening to testimony

    Hopewell Borough declared, in the resolution, that it will refuse any request from a state or federal agency that requires the identification of a resident’s immigration status, leaving that determination to federal authorities, and refuse any requests that are an extension of any federal immigration policy enforcement actions to federal authorities. The Borough will furthermore not enter into any agreements to carry out such federal enforcement actions, but leave such actions to federal authorities, according to the resolution.

    “I’ve asked Council and they’ve agreed, we will listen tonight — we will listen to your  positions for and not for,” said Hopewell Borough Mayor Paul Anzano at Thursday night’s Council meeting, explaining that the Council will take suggestions for modifications of the resolution and each Council member would make a statement after the close of public testimony.

    Public comment began with two statements prepared and read into the record from two residents — one in support of the resolution and one in opposition.

    “The issue of Hopewell declaring itself a Sanctuary City is very personal for me,” said Thomas Van Essen, a Hopewell Borough resident, who immigrated from Germany to the United States as a young child with his family as economic refugees. “I feel strongly that we need to support and protect all members of our community so as to give everyone a chance to thrive here and to contribute to our community by becoming a part of the social and economic fabric.”

    “One of the most important and practical reason to declare Hopewell a sanctuary city is that doing so will lead to better and more trusting relationships between the police and the immigrants that are a part of our community,” continued Van Essen. “By making our most marginalized neighbors fearful of the police, we risk having crimes go unreported and victims denied justice and protection. That is bad for all of us.”

    “Saying ‘no’ to the hurtful anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been so prevalent these days is not only the right thing to do from the perspectives of human kindness and neighborliness, it is also a practical step that we can take to make our community a safer and better place to live,” concluded Van Essen, who was met by applause from the audience, many of whom were members of a social media social action group, Hopewell for Hope.

    One resident to pose objection to the resolution offered her testimony and read two letters into the record, “Initially when I heard about this Sanctuary City, I was concerned,” she said, also offering claims that there was insufficient notice on the part of the Borough. “A personal note: I am a military family and federal law enforcement family. My family has taken their entire careers and their entire lifetimes to defend and protect all of you without discrimination… My family can speak without reservation saying that we truly love America, we truly love our neighbors, we truly love all of our citizens but — right now — for us, is that the law is for all of us as citizens. The beauty of living in America is that if you do not like the law, you must lobby and have the law changed. You cannot enact law and disregard law because you feel a certain way. Indeed we all feel for immigrants. We all have friends who are immigrants… Do not think that because someone does not agree with you on sanctuary status, that they do not have compassion for people. They happen to have a different point of view from you due to the way the law is.”

    “I do respect the law but sometimes the law is simply so wrong you cannot support it,” said Borough resident Woody Carsky-Wilson, in support of the resolution. “There are immigrants who are feeling that they have no rights and no one to protect them and it is wrong. We sat here and pledged allegiance to the flag — it means something to everyone — but at the end of it, it is ‘with liberty and justice for all.‘ So, I would say that most of us have more in common than what brings us apart.”

    While the supporters seemed to outnumber opposers, those in objection to the resolution expressed concerns about proper notice of the resolution, whether the Borough would be precluded from receiving federal funds, and questioning whether the designation has legal significance.

    “With regard to the notice issue, the notice was filed by the law,” said Mayor Anzano. “If you were interested in the issue, you should have come to the meeting. Thirteen people came to that meeting after they read that notice. If you’re not paying attention, I can’t explain that,” Mayor Anzano stated, encouraging residents to exercise their democratic duty as citizens to remain engaged in government on all levels.

    At the close of public comment, members of Council made comments and addressed public concerns.

    In support of her vote in favor of sanctuary city designation, Councilwoman Deb Lehman said, “I personally don’t believe we are disregarding or nullifying any federal law — we are choosing not to use our valuable resources to do the job of the federal government and the federal immigration laws. I don’t believe it is something we should be doing or are capable of doing financially or logistically… My last point I want to make is that we are talking a lot about people who are choosing to come here illegally or as undocumented, but we are missing a huge part of this. These are people who have children who are in our community, who are here in our schools. If their parents get pulled over for speeding and they get deported, where does that leave the children? This is a huge part of the issue — we are not talking about individual people who may or may not be breaking the law on how they came here or are staying here. The bottom line is that there are families and children involved and this sanctuary designation protects the entire family and that is what our community is about so I stand by this resolution 100%.”

    “It is a very complicated issue. I can’t say I’m full behind it. I did vote against it. Basically, the reason I had was that I took a vow to uphold both the constitution of New Jersey and our federal constitution,” said Councilman Robert Lewis. “I’ve never seen the hate in this town and I’ve never seen anyone reject anyone — that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen but I haven’t experienced it… I think what would make more sense if if we made changes to the immigration laws so it would be easier for people to come here who want to assimilate who want to be part of America and part of our community.”

    “It is not our fight… the reference was that it is not our fight with reference to this body. It is our fight as citizens,” said Councilman Sky Morehouse. “If we see laws we do not like, it is our responsibility to make the people making those laws understand they need to be modified… We have not had a good discussion about the laws of immigration for a long time and it is Congress’s responsibility to address the issues… If you want the laws changed use whatever mechanism before you but it is federal issue.”

    “I appreciate the majority consensus that our immigration laws are broken and need to be fixed. It is unfortunate that we will spend 20 billion dollars on a wall and billions on a enforcement agents to kick people out of the country but no one is talking about spending a dollar to fixing the problem upfront,” said Mayor Anzano. “I want to change in the resolution to encourage our congressional delegation to examine and fix the institution upfront… People have said it is not our role but it is our role as representatives of the citizens and residents of Hopewell that we need to make our voices known collectively that the rules are not working properly and we need to fix the system… It is our obligation to petition other governing bodies to change the rules and totally within our role as a governing body.

    “People have said that using the term “sanctuary city” enflames people. I spoke people in law enforcement and they said that they understand some people get upset but to the immigrant community it means something to them and offers comfort in that term,” said Mayor Anzano. “To use a different term, dilutes the impact on the immigrant community to make them less concerned about talking to a law enforcement officer or coming forward if they are victim of a crime. It would have lost the message to people we want to help.”

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