Morristown officials tell immigrants: You have nothing to fear from us

Police Chief Pete Demnitz tries to reassure immigrants. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Police Chief Pete Demnitz tries to reassure immigrants. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Video: Police Chief Pete Demnitz on immigration enforcement

By Kevin Coughlin

Morristown’s mayor and police chief told nervous immigrants on Tuesday that they have nothing to fear from them.

“I appreciate the fear. You do not have to have this fear here,” Police Chief Pete Demnitz told residents and immigration advocates who asked the town council to declare the town a “Fair & Welcoming” place for immigrants with and without documentation.

Police Chief Pete Demnitz tries to reassure immigrants. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Police Chief Pete Demnitz tries to reassure immigrants. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Madison and Maplewood have adopted such designations to show opposition to President Trump’s immigration policies.

The President’s agenda includes attempts to ban immigrants from seven Muslim countries, an executive order cutting federal grants to “sanctuary cities” that go easy on undocumented residents, and plans to erect a wall on the Mexican border.

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty said he intends to schedule a community forum after he meets with area clergy members on Wednesday.

At most, bucking Trump might cost Morristown $4,000 in federal funds, estimated Dougherty. He asserted his opposition to 287(g), a federal program to deputize police as immigration officers.

“We took the position eight years ago that as mayor, I would not enforce that policy. As mayor, I will still not enforce that policy, and as long as I am mayor, 287(g) will never exist in the town of Morristown,” said Dougherty, who seeks a third term.

The police chief said the prior mayor vowed to fire him a decade ago for opposing the program.

There is nobody that fought 287(g) more than me 10 years ago,” Demnitz said, to applause. “I almost got fired over it. I’ve stayed silent on that for 10 years.”

Morristown police only contact Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] bureau “when someone is arrested on probable cause for a serious crime. And that is aggravated sexual assault and homicide. That is the only time,” Demnitz said.

While the chief encouraged the council to declare Morristown “Fair & Welcoming,” he contended: “It already is.”

A large Valentine's Day crowd presented pros and cons of immigration policies to the Morristown council. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A large Valentine’s Day crowd presented pros and cons of immigration policies to the Morristown council. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

SAFER IN THE SHADOWS

About one-third of the town’s population is Hispanic, according to the 2010 census. The number of undocumented residents is unknown. On Tuesday, council members heard impassioned appeals in English and Spanish from people with dramatic stories.

Karol Ruiz, a lawyer who volunteers for the Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit immigrant advocacy organization, recounted crossing the border from Mexico in 1985, when she was 7.

Her family was fleeing Colombia, where a civil war and drug war struck too close to home: Ruiz said her father was stabbed, and her pregnant mother had a gun aimed at her head.

The family settled in a poor section of Morristown and feared police would find them.

“But we knew as long as we lived in the shadows in Morristown, it was safer than in Colombia,” said Ruiz. She became a U.S. citizen in 2011. “The path is very, very long and arduous,” she said.

The Rev. Charles Perez, associate pastor of the Morristown United Methodist Church, said his father at one time was a homeless Cuban refugee. He described his immigrant parents as good citizens who struggled to give him a better life.

“By the grace of God, I got my master’s, and became the man I am today,” Perez said. “It breaks my heart to see people walking in fear.”

Father Hernan Arias of St. Margaret of Scotland Roman Catholic Church and the Rev. Alison Miller of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship also spoke on behalf of undocumented residents.

Some parishioners at St. Margaret’s are “afraid to open their door, afraid someone will be waiting to take them to immigration centers,” Father Hernan said.

Mayor Tim Dougherty confers with town Administrator Jillian Barrick. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mayor Tim Dougherty confers with town Administrator Jillian Barrick. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Don Kissil, 83, is the son of Russian immigrants.  He said he was shaken by last week’s deportation of a Mexican mother of two who had spent nearly 20 years in Arizona.

Kissil choked up relating the local story of a tearful 9-year-old boy whose classmates taunted him that his father, an undocumented laborer, soon would be deported.

“I eat in an awful lot of restaurants in Morristown. And almost every restaurant that I eat in is either served by or owned by immigrants,” Kissil continued. “This is not just a diverse community. This is people we meet every day.”

DOESN’T THIS COUNTRY HAVE LAWS, TOO?’

Others see the situation differently.

Councilwoman Alison Deeb, a Republican, said it was her understanding that President Trump only intends to deport criminals.

Bill Byrne, who advocates frequently for the disabled, said diversity is great. “But doesn’t this country have laws, too?  I think we’re missing the big picture… We’ve got ISIS. I’m not saying everybody’s a terrorist. I’m just saying we’ve got to be careful.”

Councilwoman Alison Deeb said public comments 'blindsided' her; Council President Stefan Armington wanted further study of immigration issues. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Councilwoman Alison Deeb said public comments ‘blindsided’ her; Council President Stefan Armington wanted further study of immigration issues. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Immigration is a federal responsibility, and town officials have sworn to uphold the Constitution, Neal Kramer reminded the council.

“That is the law of the land,” he said, describing himself as a longtime volunteer at the Community Soup Kitchen. 

His European grandparents immigrated lawfully, he said, spending time on Ellis Island where their health was checked and their credentials were vetted.

“They were not allowed off Ellis Island until a citizen vouched for them and pledged to support them,” Kramer said. “A lot of people think that’s wrong today.”

Both sides deserve consideration, said the Mayor. “That’s what democracy’s all about.” Any discussions about a “Fair & Welcoming” status should involve the business community as well, said Councilman Robert Iannaccone.

“Let’s try not to be angry,” said Councilwoman Hiliari Davis. “It’s a stressful time for everybody.”

 

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15 COMMENTS

  1. NJ Attorney General Directives do not apply to the Chief I guess. He has no choice but to report all illegals that are arrested for a crime and DWI! Illegal aliens that are victims are treated as such. He is opening himself and the town up to all types of legal issues!

  2. For those posting links to crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, what’s the point? What fraction of crimes committed in Morristown are committed by undocumented immigrants? Plenty of white folks commit crimes as well. Many even get away with it…

    I’m glad to see the Mayor, Council and Police Chief are actually thinking this through instead of reacting to the race-baiting and fear President Bannon is trying to stir up. And terrorism? Really? You really think your gardener is going to blow up town hall? The Muslim ban is a bunch of nonsense, all the wrong countries for one thing, and total ignorance of the vetting process which is already “EXTREME” (what, do we need to give it a Mountain Dew to make it MORE EXTREME?)…

  3. From CNN : In December 2015, President Obama signed into law a measure placing limited restrictions on certain travelers who had visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011. Two months later, the Obama administration added Libya, Somalia, and Yemen to the list, in what it called an effort to address “the growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters.”. Nothing to do with Trumps business interests.

    In June 2016, a Senate subcommittee on Immigration issued a report which indicates that 72 individuals from the 7 countries have been convicted of terrorism related crimes since 9/11. The United States has admitted terrorists from all of the seven dangerous countries:

    Somalia: 20
    Yemen: 19
    Iraq: 19
    Syria: 7
    Iran: 4
    Libya: 2
    Sudan: 1
    Total: 72

  4. The data is clear on the impact of sanctuary policies. When local law enforcement focuses on keeping communities safe, rather than becoming entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts, communities are safer and community members stay more engaged in the local economy. It benefits individual households, communities, and the economy as a whole.

    Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty’s plan to schedule a community forum with area clergy to discuss declaration of Morristown as “Fair & Welcoming” and Police Chief Pete Demnitz comments are a positive sign for Morristown.

    I’m encouraged that we will move ahead on this, look forward to more reporting on this subject on MorristownGreen.com, and don’t consider legitimate reporting as “feeding into the recent hysteria.”

  5. The point was made that all criminals will be prosecuted. Sadly,many of those caught up in this, are often long time residents, paying taxes and contributing economically to their communities and adopted country. The hysteria seems to come from both sides.
    There would not have been for such an uproar if the order was properly drafted and did not target only countries, who did no business with Trump firms rather than those countries that actually have a history of contributing to terrorist incidents, both here and abroad.

  6. For one of Morris County’s smallest towns…they seem to be taking on such big issues. Are these press grabbing headlines….or real issues small towns should be dealing with. Dover, Madison, Boonton, Chester…..no other town has these dramatic town council meetings. I don’t get it. Let’s just focus on regular small town stuff….and leave the “issues of the world” to the State and Feds. This is Morristown….not Newark not New York City. I miss the days when not finding the right greeting card at Epsteins was the biggest issue one had in Morristown.

  7. Morristown and its leaders need to respect the law. Illegal immigrants, or undocumented immigrants if you prefer, should NOT be granted any benefits or privileges in Morristown or in any other town in the US. Opposing illigal immigration is NOT racism as many would like to claim. Opposing illegal immigration mean supporting our laws and means respecting the many who come to our country legally. We are a country of diversity and that is wonderful. We welcome legal, documented immigrants. We should NOT welcome illegal immigrants and NO taxpayer funds should be used to provide any benefits to illegal immigrants. We cannot afford to support these illegal immigrants who have no respect for our country and its laws. God Bless America and best wishes to all those immigrants who wish to find their Amercan dream LEGALLY.

  8. The town of Morristown is able to address this as a local issue. I respect the police chief and his decision. The website, as is its regular practice, is merely reporting what occurred at the town council meeting.

  9. What part of illegal is so hard to understand? Enter the country legally, pay taxes and there are no issues. Everyone is always crying about the death of the middle class. Well part of that is the cost of living and our taxes (nj is one of the highest in the country). Much of our taxes could be offset by the undocumented citizens but the. Everyone would cry we are singling them out and it’s discrimination.

  10. I’m disappointed that this website is feeding into the recent hysteria regarding illegal aliens and immigration. The intent of the executive order is a temporary stoppage (90-120 days) of refugees from the 7 countries, pending a review of the current vetting process. There is no outright “ban” and every president since Truman has enacted similar orders. There is no assault on legal immigration. Second, the intent of the Sanctuary cities funding issue is to stop funding cities that do not turn over to ICE illegal aliens who have been arrested and who are being held on felony crimes. That poor mother of two who was deported was guilty of identity theft, a felony. Illegal aliens who have not committed felony crimes are not being targeted. Any city that “goes easy” on criminals who commit felony crimes deserves to have all outside funding cut and its citizens should be outraged. Its also worth noting that the previous administration deported more than 1,000 illegals per day, more than any other administration. There is a lot of emotion and rumors are running rampant regarding these issues, but people need to take a step back and realize that these are not unprecedented actions and in fact, they are pretty common, but they haven’t been previously reported with such a level of hysteria.

  11. Some don’t seem to understand that not all people have the same opportunities or benefits. My mother entered the country legally, I was born here and yet when my illegal immigrant father was going to be deported, my mother and I were going with him. He loved the country that saved him form his oppressive native land, but frightened government officials issued orders to deport certain immigrants. We lived in fear and tried to stay out of sight. Lets not repeat that shameful history. Lets not let a whole generation of American born children have to live in fear or be ashamed to admit their heritage. The constitution grants us all freedom. I applaud the Police Chief and the Mayor for their stand.

  12. Another sanctuary city. I hope this clown gets voted out, although I don’t know if his successor would be any better.

    This Don Kissil doesn’t seem to know the difference between immigrant and illegal invaders.

    Karol Ruiz is anti-American.

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