Immigration Issues Demand Greater
Sense of Urgency
By LAWRENCE AARON
KEEP AN EYE ON the blue-ribbon panel created last week after Governor
Corzine signed an executive order to study the impact of immigration on
New Jersey. The aim is to ease immigrants' access to state government
Problem is, there's no acknowledgment in the order that the people he's
trying to help are here illegally. Its mandate says nothing about the
state's 450,000 illegal immigrant residents.
The purpose of this panel is to come up with "a comprehensive and
strategic statewide approach to successfully integrate the rapidly growing
immigrant population in New Jersey."
There's little argument that immigrants are widely accepted for the new
energy they infuse into many aspects of American life. Immigrants per
se are not what the majority of the state's residents are agitated about.
The concern is specifically the overwhelming number of unknown and unregulated,
When state Public Advocate Ron Chen was named to chair the Blue Ribbon
Advisory Panel on Immigrant Policy, he alluded to the hostile confrontations
at the Morristown immigration rallies as "palpable division and resentment,
often born of understandable frustration."
That common sentiment is expressed from the man on the street all the
way up to the highest levels of state and local officialdom.
Among the nearly 30 members on Chen's panel of immigration advocates and
bureaucrats are representatives of several Bergen municipalities on the
front lines of managing the influx.
"There are extraordinary housing, medical and educational
costs that local taxpayers are shouldering because of the silence from
our elected officials in Washington," said Englewood Mayor Michael
Wildes, who also chairs the state League of Municipalities Immigration
As an experienced immigration lawyer, Wildes says if immigrant communities
are made to feel police and government are a threat, they go underground.
But avoiding contact for fear of deportation makes them vulnerable to
exploitation and might endanger others, he said. For example, an illegal
housekeeper might be afraid to call the fire department.
Lagging way behind, New Jersey is one of the few states with no new legislation
addressing immigration problems in housing, education, driving privileges
and medical programs. A recent report from the National Conference of
State Legislatures shows the Garden State has been sluggish in its pursuit
of any legislation to correct the serious conflicts linked to illegal
Another concern I have with this panel is its curious timetable. In spite
of the urgency suggested by the Morristown situation, Corzine is giving
the panel 15 months to issue a report, which comes after the 2008 elections.
How serious can he be about helping immigrants or helping communities
deal with grating problems that need solutions now?
Immigration problems need to be addressed centrally, and they need to
be addressed with a spirit of urgency. Fifteen months is too long, and
only adds to the growing frustration of cities and residents fed up with
life in limbo.
The report last week from the National Conference of State Legislatures
found many states in a quandary over how much they can do in the absence
of national immigration reforms. The NCSL says this patchwork approach
has yielded so far this year 1,404 bills proposing to regulate immigrants'
access to schools, jobs, housing, driving, law enforcement and human trafficking.
Had such a panel been created as a national task force, we could have
potentially avoided the Senate fiasco in May and the frustration of Hazleton,
Pa., and Morristown.
With the third-highest percentage of foreign-born, New Jersey has one
of the poorest state records of providing any legislation at all to help
communities address the influx of the undocumented. Rather than dragging
it out 15 months, the panel should submit a package to the next legislative
session, and demonstrate a process for other states to follow.
Reproduced from The Record
Friday, August 17, 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 For Mayor, Assemblyman Arnold Brown,
Allison Court, Englewood, NJ 07631