Mayor Tim Dougherty on Tuesday registered for Morristown’s first municipal I.D. card, a voluntary program he said will make life safer for undocumented residents and more convenient for teens and seniors without drivers licenses or other photo identification.
The I.D.s could help people open bank accounts, so they don’t have to carry around valuable passports and wads of cash. They also should help some residents navigate the hospital system more smoothly, register for school, and join the town swimming pool, the Mayor said.
“We’re just trying to make life better for… everyone. That’s really what it comes down to. To make life a little bit easier today than it was yesterday, and hopefully it’ll be a little bit better tomorrow,” Dougherty said at a press conference in town hall, flanked by clergy, immigrants rights advocates and police.
The town council last month unanimously approved the program, modeled after similar ones in New York, San Francisco and Boston, and closer to home, in municipalities such as Dover, Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth.
Morristown’s hologram-imprinted cards cost $15 ($7 for seniors) and are good for two years. Applicants aged 14 and older must prove their identity and residency on a points system. Points are 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 town will not inquire about immigration status, nor will it keep any I.D. records beyond the application forms, Dougherty said.
“I don’t think anybody has the right to ask me what my immigration status is,” he said.
Legal citizenship is required for free identification cards issued by Morris County Sheriff James Gannon’s office.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin
Dougherty said he hopes the regional Morris School District will accept Morristown I.D. cards when registering students. Council President Stefan Armington has estimated as many as 3,000 undocumented people live in town.
The Mayor, a Democrat running for a third term, added that he hopes neighboring Morris Township, governed by an all-Republican committee, will accept the cards as proof of residency for Morristown teens who want to become members of Township pools to swim with friends from the school district.
District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast and Township Mayor Bruce Sisler could not immediately be reached for comment.
Morristown Police Lt. Stuart Greer said the town police bureau “wholeheartedly” endorses the I.D. program. “We think this is a wonderful way to ensure that people feel secure, they feel safe, and they’re able to communicate with the police department,” he said.
Wind of the Spirit, a Morristown-based immigrant advocacy group, has been presenting “Know Your Rights” workshops since President Trump has stepped up immigration enforcement. The municipal I.D. will be another reassuring element for frightened immigrants, said Brian Lozano, community organizer for the nonprofit.
The program was applauded by members of the Morristown area clergy council, who have been urging the town to enact a “Fair and Welcoming” ordinance that encourages undocumented residents to cooperate with local law enforcement without fear of being handed over to federal authorities for deportation.
Such a measure, discussed for months, may be introduced by the council later this month, according to the Mayor.
David Silva, pastor of the Centro Biblico church and a council candidate on Dougherty’s ticket, took issue with a critic who defended America’s immigration system and spoke against the town I.D. program last month.
“Obviously, she didn’t know what she was talking about. We are in great need of reform. Seeing as the federal government doesn’t do that…we need to bring solutions in our town,” said Silva, who emigrated from Colombia 20 years ago.
Brandon Cho, pastor of the Morristown United Methodist Church, said Morristown’s diverse and welcoming nature reminds him of Honolulu, where he grew up in an immigrant family.
“What this program does is bring us together as a more united community,” Cho said.
Morris County is affluent, but Morristown is home to some of its poorest residents, added the Rev. Alison Miller of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship. At a time of bitter national divisions, honoring our common humanity “is the right thing to do,” she said.
The Mayor praised Morristown as a caring, inclusive place.
“I don’t think I would want to live in a community that doesn’t feel that way,” Dougherty said.
He also managed to slip in a plug for gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy and a jab at Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), a longtime ally who has aligned himself with the agenda of President Trump and the GOP majority.
“I hope Senators and Congressmen elected in this country start doing their job, and it starts with our own Congressman, to start doing their job, which is representing people. That’s what they’re sent” to Washington for, Dougherty said.