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New Brunswick residents convene at city hall to advocate for 'sanctuary' status

Among the protesters collected at city hall were undocumented immigrants and individuals who had been granted protection by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. – Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez

Equipped with drums, hymns and bilingual chants, more than a hundred city residents, immigration activists and Rutgers students assembled outside of the New Brunswick City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to demand protection for the city’s undocumented residents.

The crowd, which maintained its enthusiasm for several hours despite the cold, held posters in English and Spanish, including “no human is illegal” and “immigrants make America great.”

Local political, religious and immigrant leaders energized the demonstrators from atop the steps of City Hall and called on New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill to declare “sanctuary city” status.

“It’s critical that here in New Jersey, our cities and counties are standing on the side of immigrants and against this new regime that we have with (President Donald J.) Trump,” said Russell Weiss-Irwin, a resident of Princeton, New Jersey.

Weiss-Irwin drove 30 minutes from his home to support the “huge role” that he believes immigrants play nation-wide. He said his part-time job as a teacher at an elementary school has allowed him to notice the contributions that the parents of many of his students from immigrant households have on America.

The organizers of the rally gave the mayor’s office a document outlining their concerns and demands. These included the establishment of anti-discrimination policies, the creation of a municipal I.D. program for undocumented residents and the implementation of ordinances to ensure that residents, regardless of their immigration status, are treated fairly by city employees.

The document also says that the mayor’s office should establish a “clear policy,” which guarantees that local police or government officials will not enforce federal immigration law. A total of 38 New Brunswick groups and organizations signed the document. 

“We hope to push the mayor to adopt clear, codified policies to protect immigrant communities,” said Craig Garcia, one of the rally’s organizers and the political director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

Garcia noted that there have been raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Hub City over the past years.

In January of 2016, ICE conducted a raid on a New Brunswick home and detained 21-year-old undocumented city resident German Nieto-Cruz, The Daily Targum reported. The manner in which the raid was handled and the presence of ICE in the city sparked a protest in Downtown New Brunswick that same month.

Many of the activists said they were spurred to take action after The Daily Targum reported last week that Mayor Cahill’s administration did not consider New Brunswick a sanctuary city.

The article included the following statement from Public Information Officer Jennifer Bradshaw: "The New Brunswick Police Department adheres to policies set by the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, the Office of the Attorney General and the federal government with regard to investigations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

On Feb. 5, Cahill released a statementto outline the immigration policies in place in New Brunswick. He wrote that the city does not describe itself as a sanctuary city because “the term has no defined meaning.”

In his statement, the mayor provided a list of programs and legislation to underscore New Brunswick’s “300-plus year history as a community shaped in part by the contributions of immigrants from around the world.” He also said the city’s police department serves and protects all residents regardless of their immigration status.

“The New Brunswick Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws and does not participate in raids or investigations involving immigration status,” he said.

In the press release, Cahill said there were “ambiguities” in last week’s article published by The Daily Targum. He also said his office will work to prevent hardline immigration policies or “misinformation” from tearing apart New Brunswick’s “social fabric.”

His statement did not further explain the role of the city’s police department in federal immigration investigations by ICE and the mayor's office did not respond to the Targum's request to elaborate on his statements by press time.

Some undocumented city residents who attended the rally, including Irais Mujica, said the demonstration was a significant show of solidarity, especially taking into consideration the sensitive and “scary” time.

Mujica, who has lived in New Brunswick since she left her native Mexico in 1999, works six days a week cleaning offices and houses in Hub City and surrounding towns. She said the possibility of being forced to go back to her home country and leaving her two young American daughters behind scares her.

“I’m scared that one day they’ll come to my house or find me in the street, and force me away from my daughters. That is the biggest fear I have — my daughters,” she said.

For Didier Jiménez, a Hillsborough, New Jersey resident, the rally was also personal. He is one of approximately 750,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by former President Barack Obama in 2012, who are commonly known as DREAMers. Jimenez came to America from Costa Rica when he was 9 years old.

Because he is uncertain about his future, Jimenez said he would like to see local governments resist Trump’s administration and protect their undocumented residents.

“We want the mayor to listen to us and hear us, and be considerate that these are people’s lives that you are messing with,” he said. “When you mess with people’s lives and their families, it is going to impact the community.”

Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloreports.

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