Old Bridge council directs attorney to investigate legality of immigration directive

OLD BRIDGE – Emotions over the ongoing crisis at the border of the United States and Mexico, immigration and race spilled out into the Old Bridge Township Council chambers during a recent meeting.

The end result was a 7-2 vote by council members to pass a resolution “directing the township attorney to file legal action against the governor and the state’s attorney general for violating the Constitution of the United States (and) federal laws, and issuing illegal directives to law enforcement.”

The body of the resolution states that the council authorizes Old Bridge’s legal department and township attorney “to investigate and if necessary take appropriate legal action against Gov. Phil Murphy (and) Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal … in order to prevent the enforcement of laws, policies, rules and/or orders that violate the U.S. Constitution and federal laws (that) threaten the Old Bridge Township Police Department and its sworn members with retaliation for performing their lawful and sworn duties to protect Old Bridge’s law abiding residents.”

The resolution was passed with seven “yes” votes and two “no” votes at a council meeting on Aug. 5.

Voting “yes” were council President Mary Sohor, Vice President Anita Greenberg-Belli, Councilman-at-Large Brian Cahill, Councilwoman-at-Large Debbie Walker, Ward 4 Councilman Mark Razzoli, Ward 5 Councilman Tony Paskitti and Ward 6 Councilman John Murphy.

Voting “no” were Ward 1 Councilman Dave Merwin and Ward 3 Councilwoman Edina Brown.

Razzoli, who is a retired police officer, brought forward and sponsored the resolution.

“This is not about targeting a specific group of people,” he said. “Nowhere do I mention any skin color or any reference to a specific person. People from all over the world are coming here illegally. We are advocating for legal immigration. There is nothing racist about that.”

Razzoli said the resolution is about public safety and national security.

“We have public officials who are advocating abolishing the Department of Homeland Security, which was created after Sept. 11 (2001),” he said.

In 2018, Grewal issued a directive, known as the Immigrant Trust Directive, to all state, county and local law enforcement agencies, which limits the types of voluntary assistance those agencies’ 36,000 officers may provide to federal civil immigration authorities, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Grewal said the new rules, which took effect in March, are designed to strengthen trust among New Jersey law enforcement officers and the state’s immigrant communities.

The directive applies to state and local police officers, corrections officers working in state prisons and county jails, and state and county prosecutors.

Township Attorney Mark Roselli said no lawsuit has been filed nor is there a lawsuit Old Bridge could join.

“There was discussion by the Ocean County freeholders to investigate whether it would be appropriate and what this (Old Bridge) resolution does is similar to it,” he said. “The resolution authorizes the township attorney to investigate whether or not the Attorney General’s directive violates federal law.”

Roselli said it is incumbent upon any elected official to ensure government entities are upholding laws of the state and the nation that directly affect the residents of their municipality and the safety of their law enforcement officers.

He said if a lawsuit is filed against state officials it would not cost taxpayers additional money because he will be the attorney who files the action.

“This has nothing to do with fearmongering, nothing to do with race … it is a matter of what our police department is being told to do isn’t right under the law,” Roselli said.

Merwin, who voted “no” on the motion to pass the resolution, said he believed the resolution would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“If this lawsuit had any merit, the [state] Department of Justice would have filed it already,” he said.

Brown, who also voted “no” on the motion to pass the resolution, said the resolution is bringing fear among people in Old Bridge and said national politics have no place in local government.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.