Commentary: An historical perspective of DACA in Morristown

Pro-DACA rally outside Morristown office of Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, Sept. 6, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Pro-DACA rally outside Morristown office of Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, Sept. 6, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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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.

The Morristown Neighborhood House. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Morristown Neighborhood House. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Graphic: Beth Kujan. Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, selected population tables.
Graphic: Beth Kujan. Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, 2011-2015, selected population tables.

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.

Graphic: Beth Kujan. Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, 2011-2015.
Graphic: Beth Kujan. Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, 2011-2015.

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.

 

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Jack:
    Here are some important points about DACA that you left out of your comments:

    * Obama and Immigration Legislation…For years President Obama had asked Congress to send him a comprehensive immigration bill. Because a broader immigration bill never reached his desk, the Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012 as a stopgap.

    * The Constitutionality of DACA…The Supreme Court has yet to rule on its constitutionality, so calling it “unconstitutional” is presumptive. And while the program has vocal opponents, legal experts largely argue that the program is not only constitutional but based on commonplace practices.

    President Obama used prosecutorial discretion that other presidents had used before him to decide that the people we call Dreamers, as long as they have not committed any crimes, were really low-priority for deportation, and therefore he decided to defer their deportation for and along with that give them the opportunity to get work permits. It was on a larger scale numerically than prior presidents had exercised, but it was similar.

    * What is DACA…It is not amnesty, nor a direct path to citizenship. DACA allows eligible immigrants to obtain a driver’s license, obtain a work permit, and stay in the country to work toward a path to citizenship without great risk of deportation. It DOES NOT PROVIDE any financial benefits to illegal immigrants or their offspring,

    Thanks to DACA, young immigrants can share their experiences and talent while developing their skills and education as they work to establish themselves.

    “Deporting DACA recipients does not make sense, since kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages. It is self-defeating.”

    * Finally…Your saying that I “have no respect for the United States of America or our Constitution and legal system” is out of bounds in this discussion. You do not know me nor have any idea about my personal beliefs and loyalties.

  2. Rosary, if that is your opinion, then you have no respect for the United States of America or our Constitution and legal system. DACA was an illegal presidential order. President Trump took the action that Obama should have done and pushed this to Congress to handle it accordingly. I do not agree with DACA, illegal immigration, or in providing any financial benefits to illegal immigrants or their offspring, especially when our citizens and veterans are suffering. The term “sanctuary state” or “sanctuary city” makes me sick. We need to protect our citizens, protect our borders, and protect our constitution. I suggest Rosary try to immigrate illegally to Mexico and see how that works out. She can ponder the humanity of the jail cell the Mexican authorities would place her in.

  3. If we are a “sanctuary state,” we should be very proud of it. It means we are following a call to uphold the dignity of all persons and to work for the common good. Rescinding DACA does not advance society or exemplify our best ideals; it is an abandoning of humanity.

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