By Ally Tobler
After hearing impassioned arguments on both sides, the Morris Township Committee this week rejected requests to declare the Township a “Fair and Welcoming Community.”
Neighboring Morristown is exploring whether to join municipalities such as Madison and Maplewood, which have adopted such resolutions partly to reassure undocumented immigrants who fear arrest in the wake of President Trump’s executive orders.
“Words matter in this world. Specifically since November, I myself have felt more unsafe in the world,” Township resident Elizabeth Vinci-Sisti told the committee on Wednesday.
“It’s important to me that as my daughter grows up and goes into school, that her friends are not discriminated against, that her friends feels safe, that she herself feels safe,” she said.
Peter Gallerstein, a board member of the Morris School District, echoed that sentiment.
“We do face a battle for the very lesson which we teach our children in school everyday,” said Gallerstein, a medical doctor. “The need to respect themselves and others regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexuality, national origin, disability or any difference that may be present.”
The Rev. Alison Miller, senior minister of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, and Rabbi Ellie Miller (no relation) of Morristown’s Temple B’nai Or, also spoke. The rabbi mentioned recent anti-Semitic acts at the Frelinghuysen Middle School.
“It was a member of my congregation who found the first swastika in the boy’s bathroom,” she said. “Jews know what it’s like to live in hostile communities… and Jewish tradition demands of us concern for all members of the community.”
Some residents viewed the matter differently.
“This issue is driven, in my opinion, by emotion and not reason. It’s driven by political correctness, and not common sense,” said Phil Del Giudice, noting his ancestors came to America lawfully.
To enter otherwise, he said, is “an outright nullification and disobeying of the laws of our country.”
Another resident, George Moken, equated Sanctuary with Socialism.
“Welcoming. Sanctuary. Safe. These are all nice sounding words. But what do they all really mean? They mean multiculturalism. Which equates to segregation, which destroys our sovereignty in favor of globalism,” Moken said.
“These terms sound nice,” he added. “But so did the Socialist healthcare known as the Affordable Care Act, which resulted in higher premiums, higher deductibles, loss of doctors and poor healthcare.”
Courtesy of the Friends of Televised Access in Morris Township
Supporters of Fair and Welcoming policies “are playing on people’s emotions and that is not what this is about,” said resident Julie Ferdenzi.
It’s a question of law, not compassion, she said.
“People have forgotten that there’s a difference in the definition of legal and illegal,” she said. “So everyone who is coming to this town, county, state and country legally, everyone welcomes.”
Committeewoman Louise Johnson, who opposes such resolutions, said, “You can’t legislate what’s in the human heart and if we feel bullied or unsafe or discriminated against, we have to all examine our hearts and consciences.”
Morris County Sheriff James Gannon has spoken against such resolutions, asserting it’s “bad business” to ignore federal laws. Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz has said his bureau will follow state Attorney General guidelines–but it won’t participate in a federal program that deputizes cops as immigration officers.
Without Fair and Welcoming status, advocates contend, undocumented residents may feel afraid to report crimes or testify as witnesses, at a time when immigration agents are ramping up arrests.
The Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court has asked federal officials to stop arresting undocumented immigrants at New Jersey courthouses.
State guidelines say police may inquire about immigration status only if someone is arrested for an indictable offense, or for drunk driving.
“We’ve been named the sixth safest community in Morris County, the 18th safest in the state of New Jersey and I think that that is because we have such a fantastic, professional police department,” said Mayor Bruce Sisler.
“Our children should not be afraid, their parents should not be afraid and we should tell them that,” he said.
Ally Tobler, a 2016 Morristown High School graduate, is studying journalism and marketing at the University of Maryland.