In a move that sparked passionate–and mostly supportive–public debate, the Morristown council on Tuesday unanimously approved a voluntary municipal I.D. program that will issue photo cards to anyone over 14 who can prove residency.
That includes undocumented immigrants. Clergy, immigration advocates, immigrants, children of immigrants, and the town administrator told the council that photo identification should help undocumented people open bank accounts, access health care and use the town pool.
Too many undocumented immigrants are being victimized, said Council President Stefan Armington.
“Whether people like it or not, Morristown is a community of immigrants,” he said, estimating that more than 3,000 of them are undocumented.
“Because they are not able to have bank accounts … they are walking around with their passports, which are highly valuable,” Armington said. “They’re walking around with massive amounts of cash, and so they become targets, they become victims.”
For them, local I.D. cards should simplify everything from opening bank accounts to enrolling kids in soccer programs, he said.
The program is scheduled to start on Aug. 1, 2017. Hologram-stamped I.D.s will be good for two years and cost between $7 and $15, based on the applicant’s age.
Morristown will not inquire about citizenship status, nor will it retain any personal information that could be sought by federal immigration agents, according to Mayor Tim Dougherty, adding he was “very proud” of the council.
The town becomes the state’s 10th municipality to adopt an I.D. program, following cities like Newark, Jersey City and Paterson, he said.
“This is something that shows we are very community minded, and we’re all together,” Dougherty said.
Two audience members spoke against the measure, contending government should not coddle persons who are here illegally.
Robert Darren of Morris Plains called the program a waste of money that “infantilizes” people by presuming they cannot secure identification on their own.
“I appreciate all the very moving personal anecdotes. But the law is the law,” Darren said. “The fact of the matter is, if you are here legally… you are able to obtain an I.D.”
Holly Hernandez, a Morristown resident who said she aspires to become the first woman President, and to “make America great again,” stated that life is unfair.
“Like we learned in kindergarten, when someone wanted the green crayon but had to take a purple crayon. Economics runs the world. We only have certain spots, and I think Americans should be first,” Hernandez said, asserting that “illegals get a head start over me” for low-income housing yet don’t have to pay taxes like she does.
‘LIFE AND DEATH CHOICES’
Several residents urged the council to adopt the ordinance. Margret Brady said her German father came here illegally; her family lived in constant fear of deportation during World War II.
“Immigrants come for many reasons, and often they are life and death choices. And I think we need to do what we can to protect them when they get here,” said Brady, a former councilwoman.
“This is more than just a legal exercise, or a debate over legality or entitlement. We’re talking about humanity,” said the Rev. Brandon Cho, pastor of the Morristown United Methodist Church, which started a ministry for Spanish-speaking residents.
Describing immigrants as a community asset, not a burden, Cho said the I.D. program is a simple step toward ensuring “everyone will have a fair shot at the opportunities of our great country.”
Megan Wolff, dressed in hospital scrubs from her job at Morristown Medical Center’s cancer unit, said photo I.D.s are requested before treatment. Patients lacking documentation sometimes don’t return for chemotherapy, she said, because “they fear what will happen” with authorities.
The council vote was 5-0. Council members Hiliari Davis and Michelle Duprée Harris were absent.
SHERIFF SEES IT DIFFERENTLY
Councilwoman Alison Deeb, a Republican running against Dougherty for mayor this fall, supported the program even though she would have preferred to let Morris County issue the I.D. cards.
Sheriff James Gannon, a fellow Republican, has initiated such a program, Deeb said–but he won’t issue cards to undocumented immigrants.
Morristown is buying $20,000 worth of gear to produce the cards. The money will come from “leftover capital expenditures,” said town Administrator Jillian Barrick.
The cards will have fraud-prevention features similar to those used by New York City, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, Barrick said.
I.D. cards could be handy for youths too young to drive, for seniors who no longer have driver’s licenses, and for residents on parole or probation, town officials said.
Video: Mayor differs with Sheriff over I.D.s for undocumented immigrants
Applicants must prove their identity and residency on a points system, adding up points assigned to documents ranging from passports and driver’s licenses to birth certificates, utility bills and proof of a minor enrolled in a local school.
The card does not confer driving privileges, welfare benefits, airplane travel, work authorization or citizenship. Applicants must schedule an appointment (973-796-1918) Mondays through Thursdays.
On a related topic, the Mayor said he may present a “Fair & Welcoming” resolution for council consideration next month. The council tabled the matter earlier this year so town officials and area clergy could study what other towns have done, and hold discussions with local congregations.
Fair & Welcoming measures have been adopted by Madison, Maplewood and other New Jersey municipalities, to allay immigrant fears and oppose President Trump’s immigration policies.
In other business, town Planner Phil Abramson said an update of the town’s zoning code is ready for public scrutiny.
Comments and questions can be sent here. A public workshop is anticipated in September 2017. Revisions may follow, and the code could be ready for council consideration later in the fall, the planner said.