HOWELL – The members of the Howell Township Council do not want New Jersey to become a sanctuary state and they have put their position on the record.
During a meeting on May 7, Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, Councilman John Bonevich, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilman Thomas Russo passed a resolution making their position on the matter clear. Mayor Theresa Berger was absent.
The resolution states that “across the county, various states and municipalities have enacted policies to provide ‘sanctuary’ to illegal aliens, even though such individuals are in violation of federal immigration laws.
“The governor of New Jersey and members of the New Jersey Legislature have stated that New Jersey should become a ‘sanctuary state’ and municipalities across the country and this state have declared themselves to be ‘sanctuary cities.’ ”
Council members said they believe such “sanctuary” policies are “harmful to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Howell for numerous reasons, including but not limited to undermining law enforcement, encouraging violations of federal immigration law, and jeopardizing receipt of meaningful federal funding.”
The resolution states that the council opposes New Jersey becoming a sanctuary state “and believes the state should instead focus on reducing spending and providing property tax relief to the legal residents and taxpayers of this state who are burdened with the highest property taxes in the nation.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Barbara Dixel expressed concern about the council’s passage of the resolution.
“We have all kinds of people here, all ethnicities, all races … Is Howell going to stand back and let the deportation people … knock on (someone’s) door and drag people out of their house to deport them from their families? Are you going to be part of that?” Dixel said.
O’Donnell said she would never be part of a situation like that and added, “We are opposing being a sanctuary state, a sanctuary city, and we are just trying to be proactive. We do not have any jurisdiction over any of the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or any of their affiliate employees.”
Dixel disagreed with the council’s passage of the resolution and said, “I guess Howell does not give a damn about its residents because someone is going to knock on the door and drag them out and deport them.”
O’Donnell disagreed with Dixel’s assertion that people would be taken from their residence.
Resident Tina Smilek said she is opposed to New Jersey being a sanctuary state and sought to engage the council members in a discussion of the resolution and the immigration issue.
O’Donnell said the resolution the council members passed was based on information gathered by professionals.
Township Attorney Joseph Clark told Smilek the public comment portion of the meeting was for comments and not for a question and answer session with the governing body.
“You are welcome to ask, but I think (the resolution) states what it states and if you have a comment on it you are free to share it with us,” Clark said.
“My opinion is that you (council members) are passing something that is very open-ended where it can be taken in many different ways, from many different people, and when you leave that openness, many people can be guided in the wrong direction of what you really feel,” Smilek said.
“There are different reasons for not wanting sanctuary states and there are reasons maybe that are not so good. There are people who are actually immigrants who may need help, so I do not want to cut out one group of people for another.
“Don’t get me wrong, because I do not want to be a sanctuary city. It is just that this is a huge topic and it is a very debatable topic and it is something that is going on in our state, in our country, and it is very explosive right now, and I think that just making a broad statement creates more hatred or more infighting then actually knowing exactly what you mean,” Smilek said.