Middletown officials: Our town will ‘never’ become a sanctuary city

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MIDDLETOWN – Spiritual leaders in Middletown are expressing mixed feelings toward the Township Committee’s decision to formally reject the idea of the municipality being a sanctuary city.

“This resolution is not Middletown saying we are anti-immigration. We are saying we will not provide a safe harbor for illegal immigrants who partake in criminal activities. That is federal law,” Deputy Mayor Anthony Fiore said during a committee meeting on April 15.

That evening, residents and members of the clergy showed up in town hall to comment on a resolution the committee passed on April 1. That resolution was titled “A Resolution Opposing New Jersey Becoming a Sanctuary State and Resolving that the Township of Middletown Shall Never Become a Sanctuary City.”

A sanctuary city has been defined as a location where municipal officials do not cooperate with federal authorities on matters relating to immigration.

According to the resolution, sanctuary policies are harmful to the health, safety and welfare of residents. The resolution states that sanctuary policies undermine law enforcement, encourage violations of federal immigration laws and jeopardize the receipt of federal funding.

The committee’s passage of the resolution followed a directive from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. The Immigrant Trust Directive was announced in November and became effective on March 15.

The directive provides New Jersey’s law enforcement officers with the following protocol: Officers cannot stop, question, arrest, search or detain an individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status; officers cannot ask the immigration status of an individual, unless doing so is necessary to the investigation of a serious offense; officers cannot participate in civil immigration enforcement operations conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.

The directive states that officers in New Jersey may not provide ICE agents with access to law enforcement resources and officers cannot allow ICE agents to interview an individual who has been arrested on a criminal charge unless that person is advised of his right to a lawyer.

On April 15, although the matter was not listed on the evening’s agenda, some residents and spiritual leaders took time during the open public comment portion of the meeting to express their opinions about the resolution that had been passed two weeks earlier.

Rev. Virginia Jarocha-Ernst, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, Lincroft, said she collected 23 signatures from 11 congregations in Middletown. She said the people who signed their names disagree with the governing body’s declaration.

Reading from a written statement, Jarocha-Ernst said, “As citizens and religious leaders in this community, it is our responsibility to call us all to a higher level of civility and humane behavior … In the absence of fair and appropriate immigration policies, we are called to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.”

In response, Fiore said, “We take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Some laws I don’t agree with, but I uphold them. I appreciate your letter, but I challenge the fact that this has nothing to do with immigration and everything to do with Middletown not putting the safety of our residents at risk.”

Resident Rosemarie Newberry said she will continue to oppose the resolution.

Newberry, who said she is the daughter of an immigrant, said she grew up in fear that her mother would be deported.

“This resolution concerns me that there would be extra scrutiny of immigrants who may not be carrying their paperwork … The fear of children separated from their parents concerns me the most,” she said.

Members of the Township Committe thanked Newberry for her statement, but did not respond.

Joined by members of his congregation, Rev. Joseph Hein, a pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Middletown, thanked the governing body for passing a resolution that opposes the attorney general’s directive.

“The state properly places first the welfare of its citizens,” Hein said. “I support the township’s resolution, as does the group here with me. Middletown shall not become a sanctuary city and we support the strict enforcement of local, state and federal laws … It’s hypocrisy to deny citizens the opportunity to chose who lives within our borders.”