Corzine Forms Immigration Study Panel
By TOM HESTER Jr. | Associated Press Writer
4:18 PM EDT, August 6, 2007
TRENTON, N.J. - Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Monday created a special panel to study how best to integrate immigrants into New Jersey .
The 27-member panel will have 15 months from its first meeting to make recommendations on education, citizenship status, civil rights, fair housing, health care, language proficiency and job training. The panel will be chaired by Public Advocate Ron Chen.
"For years New Jersey has been a gateway to America _ a place of opportunity and new beginnings," the Democratic Corzine said. "And today we take an important step in creating a comprehensive statewide strategy for weaving immigrants into the economic, social and civic fabric our communities and state."
About one in five of the state's 8.7 million residents were born in other countries, according to U.S. Census figures.
"On a state level, we must work toward developing policies and programs that encourage our newest residents to integrate into our communities, helping to fuel our economic growth, enhance our social network and enrich our cultural fabric," Chen said.
Sen. Ronald Rice was among those named to the panel.
"It's time to ensure justice for immigrants who today often find the path to citizenship marked with violent attacks, job discrimination and inequality," said Rice, D-Essex.
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, chairman of a state League of Municipalities immigration task force, said the panel will prove helpful "while Congress stands silently on the sidelines watching our broken immigration system fester."
Corzine's move came after about 500 people rallied in Morristown in late July for and against immigrants' rights. The town has applied to become the first New Jersey municipality to enter a federal program that would give its police officers power to enforce immigration laws.
A recent poll found about two-thirds of New Jerseyans would support giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Federal officials estimate the state has about 221,000 illegal immigrants.
Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, a frequent critic of illegal immigration and an unsuccessful 2005 Republican gubernatorial candidate, bashed Corzine's move. He said it was the first step toward opening state government programs to illegal immigrants.
"I think what he's doing is rolling out the red carpet for illegal immigrants to come to New Jersey ," Lonegan said.
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