By Rumu DasGupta
I was disappointed to read that the members of the Township Committee in Freehold Township passed a resolution to oppose, “policies to make New Jersey a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants.”
At the same time, I was heartened that the committee recognizes that enacting comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform is at the heart of resolving the crisis the country faces in regard to the status of almost 11 million undocumented.
The blotch on their resident status is one the immigrants want to rectify urgently, but the wait to legalize would take up their entire lifetime given the backlog and the way immigration laws are currently applied.
The crisis of immigration is more than anything a politically motivated bureaucratic problem and one that arises from continued government intransigence in enacting genuine reform. And one that in the meantime provides excellent political fodder.
Even as they are disparaged, immigrants make contributions which are invaluable to the health and wealth of our towns.
Dying downtowns are revived when new businesses which serve and are run by immigrants pump new energy into the commercial life of the towns. Restaurants and other service establishments thrive with the labor immigrants provide.
The life blood of many churches depends on the participation of immigrants, especially young ones, as the long-term residents and their children forsake attendance more and more.
The work which immigrants do at low cost and in often exploitative work conditions is integral to the burgeoning home-cleaning, construction and landscape outfits that have so much to do with the maintenance and upkeep of homes and gardens all across our towns.
What does it say about a community’s integrity when it greedily takes all that an immigrant can give, but turns a blind eye when they are besieged?
Since immigrants are such an integral part of our towns and communities, since they are so vital for the economic and aesthetic well-being of the towns in which they live and serve, why can’t they be given the peace of mind that until real immigration reform comes about to enable them to legalize their status, the towns will have their back?
By becoming sanctuaries, towns essentially are pledging that local law enforcement will not inquire about a resident’s immigration status, or divulge information to the federal immigration agency ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to aid them in rounding up and forcing out immigrants residing in their area for no reason other than the presumption of their illegality, unless of course some serious criminality is involved.
We know quite well that contrary to the prevailing notions that paint immigrants as criminals and gangsters, studies have shown them abiding by the law more so than their citizen counterparts.
Withholding sanctuary status means towns will expose immigrants to an uncertain future every morning they wake up. Township committees will then have to take responsibility for their role in dividing families, separating parents and children, who are often U.S. citizens, and in the general tragedy which always accompanies the arbitrary meting out of a certain definition of justice.
The Random House Dictionary defines sanctuary as a sacred place that becomes a place of refuge, an asylum. Therefore, any place that offers sanctuary to those facing peril becomes by extension sacred.
Rumu DasGupta of Freehold Township is a Professor Emerita of Sociology at Georgian Court University, Lakewood.