Handling N.J.'s Boom in Illegals
By ELIZABETH LLORENTE
TYSON TRISH / THE RECORD
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
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
"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
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.
* * *
Some North Jersey towns have taken or are considering steps aimed at illegal
• Butler mandated minimum living spaces in rental units to control
• Palisades Park passed a measure against loitering.
• Garfield , Fairview and Leonia are looking to impose fines on
landlords who violate housing codes.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood
2-10 N. Van Brunt Street
Englewood , NJ 07631
for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Assemblyman Arnold Brown, Treasurer