Handling N.J.'s Boom in Illegals

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Englewood mayor Michael Wildes is concerned that crowded living conditions -- prevalent in dwellings occupied by illegal immigrants -- create a dangerous situation in his community.

New Jersey 's illegal immigrant population has grown so dramatically in size and impact in the last decade that the League of Municipalities has formed a task force to study the community and its effect on the state in general.

Advocates believe New Jersey could have close to 1 million illegal immigrants. The underground community -- which stretches from the northernmost Bergen County towns to the southern tip of New Jersey in Cape May -- has overwhelmed some areas of the state, with up to 200 day laborers crowding streets in places like Bergenfield, Palisades Park and Morristown each day.

"The buck on immigration law is supposed to stop with the federal government," said the task force chairman, Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes. "But it's in our local communities that illegal immigrants go to schools and get mended at our hospitals, so in the absence of any action from the federal government, it is incumbent upon us to delineate options and create ordinances that deal with the impact of this population."

The task force has met once, but its plans are ambitious. It will look at crowding, health and safety issues and the cost to municipalities of providing education, law enforcement, health care and other services to "substantial numbers of individuals who do not pay taxes."

Bill Dressel Jr., executive director of the league, said the task force must decide how to balance the rights of illegal immigrants against the quality of life issues that affect all state residents.

"We want to make sure that we do what is in the best interest of the public, and be fair to them, but also be fair to those who are less fortunate," Dressel said.

Jay Delaney, a former mayor of Morristown , said striking a balance is extremely difficult. He recalled how immigration advocacy groups in Morristown pushed for dealing sensitively with the day laborers who gathered waiting for contractors.

"One side wants consideration and for the town to help day laborers, and the other side wants you to just get rid of them."

Wildes is intent on crafting solutions that would treat illegal immigrants with compassion. At the same time, he does not want to turn a blind eye to the problems that clearly stem from a growing community that lives in the shadows.

It was in Englewood , after all, that crowded living conditions -- prevalent in dwellings occupied by illegal immigrants -- led to the deaths of two people last August when they became trapped a fire in an illegal basement apartment.

Other problems have emerged or worsened with the growth of illegal immigration. Hospital emergency rooms are seeing illegal immigrants show up seeking treatment for everything from serious illnesses to toothaches. Schools -- even in towns like Westwood and Ridgewood , which typically do not conjure up an image of illegal immigration -- have seen a steady stream of students whose parents are illegal. Throngs of day laborers on corners waiting for work -- once a rare sight in North Jersey -- have become a fixed part of the landscape.

Immigration has become ubiquitous and urgent enough, Dressel said, to claim a place alongside perennial Main Street issues such as school policies, recycling and municipal taxes. The task force plans to conduct a survey of town officials and hold public hearings across the state.

Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa knows what he will tell the task force if he is asked for input:

"My main challenge as police chief is to make sure everybody in my community feels connected, if they're here legally or not. I don't want anyone to feel left out or left behind," Zisa said.

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First steps
Some North Jersey towns have taken or are considering steps aimed at illegal immigration.

• Butler mandated minimum living spaces in rental units to control crowding.

• Palisades Park passed a measure against loitering.

• Garfield , Fairview and Leonia are looking to impose fines on landlords who violate housing codes.

Reproduced from The Record
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood
2-10 N. Van Brunt Street
Englewood , NJ 07631




Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Assemblyman Arnold Brown, Treasurer