By Beth Kujan
President Trump’s decision to repeal the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama-era policy that shields children of undocumented immigrants from deportation, sparked a demonstration this week in Morristown.
But Morristown’s embrace of immigrants goes back much further, back to when that concept became meaningful during the Gilded Age.
Reform-minded citizens established “settlement houses” in which volunteers provided services such as childcare, basic healthcare, language and vocational education to the newly arrived.
The idea was to settle foreign immigrants into the established social structure. The focus was on women and children as the keepers of culture.
Morristown’s settlement house evolved into the Neighborhood House. Naturally, the demographics of its constituents have changed over time.
Initially serving Southern European immigrants, during the Great Migration the House shifted focus to the African American population.
Later, the Nabe, as it’s now known, concentrated on needs of the growing population of Hispanics/Latinos.
Currently, the Nabe’s clientele is roughly 80 percent Latin in origin and 20 percent African-American.
As is consistent from the 1890s to the present, many families served have low- to very low incomes.
In 2015, the poverty rate in Morristown was about 5 percent. While that seems small, somewhere between 1,300 and 2,500 people above age 5 fell below the poverty line at one point or another that year, according to the US Census Bureau. Tight times.
So, might greater Morristown be home to Dreamers? The latest Federal statistics say yes. Six percent of Morristown residents are not US citizens.
Considering that Dreamers are non-citizens by definition, let’s look at what we know about these neighbors.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2011-2015), 75 percent of Morristown’s non-citizens speak Spanish at home, 15 percent speak English and 10 percent speak another language.
We also know that people move in and out of Morristown. Not very many of us have been here 40 years. The Census survey suggests most of us have been here between roughly 5-15 years.
Demographics don’t tell us much about Dreamers, but we might infer that many of them are aiming go beyond the ones who brought them here.
Consider the educational attainment statistics for Morristown residents. Of those who spoke Spanish at home, 14 percent have finished college, and nearly 60 percent finished high school level study.
In sum, we know that there are potentially many Morristown residents who might qualify as Dreamers. This is a good place to be a Dreamer.
While societal expectations of assimilation have changed over time, Morristown’s friendliness to newcomers appears to have been relatively steady. Let’s hope we can maintain our sanity.
Beth Kujan is a project manager who has lived in Morris Township for more than 20 years. READ MORE about the impact of the DACA repeal on New Jersey’s estimated 22,000 recipients.