HOPEWELL: Committee doubles down on message of inclusivity

Despite some objections, the Hopewell Township Committee approved a resolution reinforcing the message that the township is a welcoming community to all – regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

The committee approved the resolution, which declares that the township is a welcoming community and that it is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all residents, at its Nov. 13 meeting, but the vote was not unanimous.

Deputy Mayor Julie Blake and Township Committeewomen Kristin McLaughlin and Vanessa Sandom voted in favor of the move, but Township Committeeman John Hart voted against it. Sandom was not present at the meeting, but voted through a conference call.

Mayor Kevin Kuchinski was absent.

The resolution states that “when faced with the risk of deportation or prosecution, undocumented individuals, both residents and visitors, may be less likely to report a crime or act as witnesses, (and) may be less likely to participate in community events, thereby weakening the fabric of the community.”

That’s why the committee wants everyone to know, according to the resolution, that township employees “will continue to serve all residents and township services will be available to all residents, regardless of immigration status.”

Hopewell Township police officers “will not inquire into a person’s immigration status” except when that person has committed an indictable crime or is suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the resolution states.

The resolution, and an accompanying proclamation signed by Deputy Mayor Blake, grew out of concerns expressed by township residents about national issues of public safety for citizens and police officers, in the wake of a series of police shootings of minorities and shootings of police officers themselves in 2016.

Earlier this year, Police Chief Lance Maloney met with the committee and said that Hopewell Township police officers only ask about a person’s immigration status if that person has committed a serious crime – murder, rape, burglary, stalking, kidnapping, driving while intoxicated or some drug crimes.

If that person is in the United States illegally, he or she will be reported to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Chief Maloney said. The police department adheres to a 2007 directive from the state Attorney General’s Office, he said.

Chief Maloney also said at the earlier meeting that police officers would continue to enforce the law and that they would continue to help people, regardless of the person’s immigration status.

No one will be detained or arrested only on the suspicion of being in the United States illegally, the police chief said.

At last week’s township committee meeting, Deputy Mayor Blake said that “these are serious issues that require sober reflection and discussion in communities across the country.”

Residents and visitors alike should feel comfortable asking questions, reporting crimes and reporting any concerns they may have with the police or their procedures, Deputy Mayor Blake said.

“Tonight’s resolution and proclamation are just one step in the continuing dialogue between residents and the police who are charged with our safety,” she said at the Nov. 13 meeting.

But Hart was skeptical.

“This sounds like you want to make (Hopewell Township) a sanctuary city. This is not a sanctuary town. If they break the law, we are going to arrest them,” Hart said, noting that he had never heard anyone say the police were not doing their job.

Deputy Mayor Blake agreed with Hart that Hopewell Township is not a sanctuary city. The proclamation, which is worded similarly to the resolution, explains that township services are available to all residents, regardless of immigration status, she said.

McLaughlin said she did not think the resolution or the proclamation “does anything to welcome crooks” into the community.

People should not fear being able to report a crime, McLaughlin said, adding that being afraid to report incidents is what makes a town unsafe.