Montclair Council Passes Resolution To Remain Welcoming Community, 4-2

The Montclair Township Council went through another go-around of vocal support from residents at its February 21 meeting in favor of a township resolution declaring Montclair as a sanctuary city.  The resolution Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors considered and narrowly passed, though, did not use those terms, saying instead that Montclair would continue to commit to equal treatment of all people and to remain an open and welcoming community.

A resident shows support for a resolution welcoming immigrants to Montclair.

“The policy of the Township of Montclair shall be to welcome and treat all persons entering or living in our community with the same respect, fairness, and dignity, and to continue providing municipal services and enforcing the law on an equal basis to all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or nation of origin or descent, or of federal immigration status,” the resolution reads.  “As a matter of policy, recognizing that this Council is prevented by State statute from directly instructing or ordering the Manager or Chief of Police to take any action or to operate the Police Department in a particular manner, the Police Department should continue to follow New Jersey Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive 2007-3 in interactions with federal immigration authorities, refraining from inquiring as to or investigating a person’s immigration status except in the limited circumstances when they are required by law to do so.”  The directive states that police should ask about a person’s immigration status in the event of an arrest for an indictable crime or for a DUI (driving under the influence) charge.

While many residents welcomed Montclair’s renewed commitment to immigrants’ rights, many of those who spoke in public comment argued that the emphasis on adherence to the 2007 directive from the state Attorney General’s office was out of date in relation to the Trump administration’s aggressive expansion of arrests of illegal immigrants.  Resident John Gutierrez said the resolution “encapsulated the values” of Montclair, but he added that the practical impact of the resolution was “nil,” saying more should be done to protect immigrants in town.   Resident Anuraj Bismal said he too approved of the resolution’s reaffirmation of the rights of immigrants, but said he wanted to see it go further by being stronger in wording.  He was concerned about the federal government’s directive to get local police to work more closely with federal authorities in arresting illegal immigrants and jailing them prior to hearings.

Montclair resident Anuraj Bismal discusses the immigration resolution.

“We need to protect our people and our police department from becoming agents of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” he said.  “We need language that prohibits the sharing of data between the police department and ICE.  We need language that will authorize the police department to resist immigration enforcement as outlined by this current administration.”  Bismal feared a serious rift could otherwise develop between the police and the immigrant population.

Not everyone favored the resolution.  Resident Ryan Smith said that, while Montclair should continue its tradition of accepting newcomers, he was afraid that criminals could take advantage of Montclair as a place of sanctuary by coming to town to evade authorities.   Student Melody Garcia said the resolution was unfair to legal immigrants who played by the rules to come to the country.  She and other students said Montclair residents ought to come first before new arrivals.  Roland Straten, Montclair resident and the Republican candidate who ran unsuccessfully against Congressman Bill Pascrell in 2010, dismissed the resolution as having no real effect and being an act of self-righteousness on the part of the town’s liberal majority.   He called it the “We Hate Donald Trump” resolution.

“We’re not anti-Trump,” Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo retorted.  “Trump’s anti-us!”

A group of Montclair students demonstrates against the resolution welcoming immigrants.

Resident Jeffrey Jacobson said the council did a great job, by recognizing that the directive remains in force and crafting a regulation that follows the law and re-affirms its commitment to the law that is currently in place.  He pointed out that the 2007 directive is binding on local police departments until it has been rescinded, which the Attorney General’s office has not done.  Jacobson was chief counsel of the state Attorney General until March 2016.

Before reading the resolution prior to the vote, Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said the council appreciated the residents’ input, and she felt confident that the council had reviewed the legal opinions on the matter and reviewed other “sanctuary city” measures in the area.  She said the resolution was as carefully worded as possible to get at least four votes from the council so Montclair could reassure people that it was and remains a welcoming township.  Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller said he understood people’s fears that some law-breakers might take advantage of the resolution by coming to Montclair, but he was confident that more towns in the region would not give in to fear and present a united front against the Trump administration, saying it was necessary to speak up for what is right.  Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock disagreed, saying the resolution could run afoul of the law, and he thought it would compromise the council-manager form of government under the Faulkner Act – namely, that the council would be violating its boundaries by telling the police what to do  – as well as jeopardize federal funding.  Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager also cited federal funding for school lunches as a reason not to support the resolution and risk losing such funding.  The resolution passed 4-2 over Deputy Mayor Hurlock’s and Councilor Schlager’s negative votes.  Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon was absent.

In other business, the council amended the 2008 financial agreement between Montclair and the developer of the Siena condominium complex.  Township Attorney Ira Karasick said that the township worked with unit owners to have the condominium apartments valued consistently so that owners are taxed and charged with fees in a fair manner.  Christine Pastini, a lawyer for the Siena’s association, asked for a postponement of the second-ordinance reading that amended the agreement so that the association could review it.  Because the association does not own any units, the council deemed the request irrelevant and passed the ordinance 5-0-1, with Deputy Mayor Hurlock abstaining.  Karasick found the requested delay absurd.  “They could have renewed this whole thing in an afternoon,” he said.

The council also reviewed a first-reading ordinance requiring retail service businesses to post prices for services.  Councilor Russo had wanted more time to review the wording, but Dr. Baskerville demanded that it be voted on, saying that it was pointless to continue to allow businesses not to post prices for services and possibly charge one person one price while charging another customer a different price.  Montclair Business Improvement District Executive Director Israel Cronk said it was important to inform businesses and identify specifically what businesses would fall under such an ordinance, and it was delayed. Civil Rights Commission Chair Joe Kavesh, who spoke on the issue, also requested an adjournment to give the CRC an opportunity to review and discuss the proposed ordinance at its March 16 meeting, as the CRC had drafted a gender pricing ordinance in 2015.

Two other subjects came up.  At the beginning of public comment, David Fucio of People with Disabilities Committee lamented that the township has not fully complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as the lack of infrastructural improvements throughout town.  Mayor Jackson said he would be happy to have the Services Committee meet with Fucio’s group, and Karasick said something would be set up.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Jackson expressed concern over the lack of progress in redeveloping Lackawanna Plaza and wanted to know how it could be kick-started.  Dr, Baskerville proposed that the Economic Development committee should have a meeting later in the week to discuss how that could be done.

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  1. The key here is the last paragraph. For over a year now nothing has happened at Lackawanna Plaza where we could actually help low income and immigrant families here in Montclair. One might wonder about priorities and leadership…

  2. From my perspective, the key here was communicating to undocumented residents of Montclair that if they become crime victims, or witness a crime, they can call the Montclair Police Department without fear that they will be asked for “their papers.” That’s not just a Montclair policy, it’s a *state* policy, and it has been for the past 10 years. (The same is true, by the way, with respect to parents wanting to meet with their kids’ teachers.)

    I have had the high privilege of meeting with police officers and commanders all over New Jersey, and I’ve never found one who didn’t agree with this policy. Regardless of whether one believe undocumented residents should be “legalized,” deported, or something in between, I doubt there are many who think they should be targets for criminals to rob or rape with impunity.

    The major impact of yesterday’s resolution was to communicate that reality to all residents of Montclair, and that’s why I supported it. I don’t think the Council put any of our federal funds at risk by reciting a state policy and saying our police will continue to follow it. I happen to agree with Deputy Mayor Hurlock that the Council should not generally spend its time opining on what the federal government is doing; we have enough issues in Montclair. In this unique case, however, the primary question on the table was not what federal law enforcement is doing, but what Montclair residents can expect from the Montclair Police. For that reason, in this lone case, I think the Council majority did the right thing. I also respect Deputy Mayor Hurlock’s and Councilor Schlager’s decision to vote no in order to avoid running even the smallest risk to our federal funding.

    As for the people who wanted to go further, including three of the Councilors who spoke last night, I must respectfully disagree. I think the adopted resolution struck the right balance.

  3. Interesting to note the intolerant posture of some in the audience when speakers were opposed to the resolution . Demanding to “say where you live”, and “state your full name” . One person challenged a high school student who spoke against the resolution to “whose job did they take?” Rude and off-putting.

    The high school Republican party, though, did provide some levity with a “Montclair First!. No Santuary City” (sic)

  4. Translation:
    Agenda item: Let illegal non-citizens know they have nothing to worry about.

    Agenda item: Let legal citizen business owners the must now post prices for services.

    Next time I get a parking ticket in Montclair , I’ll declare I’m undocumented and then they cannot ask me to show “my papers’.

    The whole world has gone crazy !

  5. I’m confused about the comment regarding Lackawanna Plaza and helping low income families / immigrants. Those of us who live right in this part of town sorely miss having a supermarket and other businesses inside Lackawanna. There are only 3 businesses operating inside the mall now, and it’s desolate and dark inside. Were you making a connection between 4th ward residents being poor and non citizens? It seems to happen with great regularity, and it’s wrong. Dead wrong.

  6. This is disgusting. This will make Montclair a haven for criminal illegal aliens. I hope WHEN not if a violent crime occurs in Montclair. Its a town counsel member or their family. Blood will be on their hands. You libtards will never get it. Here is a fact. Trump won the election!!!!!!!! And the DEMS are going to get crushed AGAIN in 2018.

  7. As pointed out by Councilor Russo, a unanimous vote was a very important symbolic component in the strength resolution’s intended message. Passed by a simple majority (4-2), the township was clearly divided, for various reasons that will be lost over time, in the message being sent. I see this as neutral to marginally positive outcome. I think it would have been better to revise the language to reflect Hurlock’s and Schlager’s concerns and get their support. Yes, it would likely risked further diluting the resolution, but was this outcome worth passing on a chance for a unanimous vote?

  8. Thankfully this issue is behind us. The sad thing is, the Council room emptied out following the sanctuary debate. As one of the speakers near the end noted, will the people who turned out in droves for a largely symbolic resolution come to future Council meetings when real (but less sexy) issues are on the agenda? Affordable housing? Gender equity? ADA? Infrastructure?

  9. “One might wonder about priorities and leadership…”

    “One major issue”, a “certain thing”, was holding up moving forward on Lackawanna redevelopment. The Council’s newly reconstituted Economic Development Committee overcame the obstacle a months or so ago, but still no movement.

    This lead to the Mayor taking the infrequently taken step of publicizing his perception of a bureaucratic logjam, possibly in the Planning Dept,with the Planning Board or at the EDC. Making a public point of chastising this inaction was a form of leadership and clarifying this priority. So, if the delay is not for those reasons, what could be another logical reason? Ask the Council…some of them are obviously dying for someone to ask them.

  10. Just more proof that Montclair is slouching towards Gomorrah.

    I’m curious which federal law our esteemed town council suggest we ignore next.. hate crimes? sexual discrimination? The Federal Disability Act?

    Even in Montclair we should be able celebrate diversity and be a “welcoming community” (whatever that means) without having to support illegal immigration.. I hope.

  11. @lucylou I live in the 4th ward also. It’s simple demographics. The majority of those who would benefit from renovation of the plaza are statistically lower income than other areas in Montclair. My point was (and is) that declarations like this generally won’t help those in our ward as much as doing the hard work of fixing that space. Our town has dropped the ball on that. I like the Mayor, but why is he asking? Shouldn’t he be doing? JB

  12. I wasn’t going to weigh in again, but two quick points:

    1) By this resolution, the Council is not “ignoring” any federal law. No federal law requires police officers to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims or witnesses, and a binding state directive forbids it. The Council did not argue — and no such argument is possible — that a Montclair ordinance somehow trumps federal law.

    2) Neither this resolution nor the state policy protects felons or drunk drivers. If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for a felony or DUI, that person must be reported to ICE. Importantly, however, as Mayor Jackson pointed out at the Feb. 7 meeting, this has never happened in at least the past 16 years. I therefore disagree that passage of this resolution is going to make it more likely that undocumented immigrants with a propensity for violence will want to “hide out” in Montclair. (Not for nothing, we have one of the best police forces in the state.)

  13. Jon,

    The EDC is our point group for our redevelopment projects. Your ward was very vocal in asking the EDC membership be reconstituted, although it had been working well by most accounts from pro-development stakeholders. It is clear to me from both the Mayor’s and Councilor Baskerville’s remarks that the reconstituted EDC dropped the ball. That is why they are getting the opportunity to go back and to try and pick it up. If they don’t/can’t, then the Mayor was pretty clear that the full Council should step in to resort to a stick (v. the carrot) approach.

  14. “Just more proof that Montclair is slouching towards Gomorrah.”

    Is this a biblical reference or a reference to the Italian television show?

  15. Just as they did with Elizabeth Warren. We are not arguing immigrants here, we are arguing against .. ILLEGAL. ILL-LEGAL Immigrants. Now that that is over. I, a 3rd generation Montclair resident, am ashamed to be from this town I used to love to call home. With Lackawanna plaza falling into disrepair, a perfect opportunity for a somewhat Chelsea style market, the vacant store fronts, the no- show landlords who aren’t being held accountable, one must ask, what are the main priorities of this town anymore.

  16. Lackawanna’s development potential is between a rock and a hard place.

    In nut shell, the current thinking is too big, too dense, too overreaching, too complicated and will require the deepest pockets to date. The key differentiators should emphasize open space, low rise development and most importantly, multi-modal transportation. Not housing. Not municipal services. Not multiple parking decks. Forget the park once, shop thrice mantra. Focus on volume, speed & turnover. It should be a 24 hr mecca of drive-throughs, pick-up and overall conveniences that leverages its location. Look up the hill at what Montclair Center can’t offer. Make Lackawanna different.

    Instead of moving the municipal offices there, move the public library there with some space for seniors (ok, that was a throwaway idea). This doesn’t mean there can’t be a high-rise apartment building, but go up, not out. It should just be rethought. Take the stakes put in the ground and start with a clean sheet of paper …and with an eye towards future trends.

  17. “This is disgusting.”
    —it’s best to not provide a review of your post before people have read it, but do continue…

    “This will make Montclair a haven for criminal illegal aliens.”
    —I’d ask for proof of this assertion, but I think the Fact Train left the station a while back…

    “I hope WHEN not if a violent crime occurs in Montclair. Its a town counsel member or their family. Blood will be on their hands.”
    —Note how quickly this went from “illegal” to “violent”, with no basis in anything other than the rather obvious prejudices of the “writer”…

    “You libtards will never get it. Here is a fact. Trump won the election!!!!!!!! And the DEMS are going to get crushed AGAIN in 2018.”
    —and now we get to the true purpose of the post. the “writer” doesn’t care about this issue. the “writer” is apparently so enamored of the word “libtard” they can’t wait to use it, even if it does nothing but reveal the hideous hatred that drives them. Like the President, they get to revel yet again in the election results, a tired and unintelligent tactic. And the coup de grace is their Nostradamus-like ability to see the future.

    the “writer” has offered no facts, no logic, only blind hatred, pig ignorance and an unsettling anger that makes me more afraid of them than the shadowy immigrant bogeyman they fear so greatly. Clutch your gun ever-so-tightly and add another level of tin foil to your hat.

  18. Typical LIBTARD response. Have you ever heard of Kate Steinle? An Illegal alien criminal murdered an innocent person just this week in Denver Co. There are so many cases like this all across America. These are FACTS!!!

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