Newark immigrant community shares fears, worry in Trump era

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for
on March 02, 2017


NEWARK -- Hoping to allay fears in the community, Newark officials met with residents Wednesday night to assure them the city would support its immigrant population amid tougher enforcement policies promised by President Trump. 

"We in Newark are never going to stand by the President and the things he's trying to do with immigration," Mayor Ras Baraka told a packed room at the Mediterranean Manor in the East Ward. "We are not going to stand by it."

Baraka said Newark was committed to remaining a sanctuary city despite Trump's executive order threatening to cut federal funding for jurisdictions that limit communication with federal immigration officials.

There's no legal definition for sanctuary cities but they are generally considered jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with immigration agents. Newark does not to comply with federal requests to hold undocumented inmates in jail, unless the detainer request is accompanied by a judge's order.

"Our job is not to go after undocumented immigration, our job is not to enforce federal law, our job is to enforce city ordinances and state law," said Newark Police Capt. Adolph Perez Jr. "Nothing more, nothing less."

More than 100 residents packed the roughly two-hour meeting, expressing fears of being torn from their children or being returned to countries they no longer know. 

One young undocumented immigrant who received a work permit and temporary protection from deportation under President Obama, said she wasn't sure whether she should renew her permit under Trump.

"I'm scared," said told the standing-room-only crowd. 

Others asked what they should do if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came to their door. 

"They have no right to enter your house unless they have a warrant signed by a judge," said Anibal Romero, a Newark lawyer. "If immigration gives you a piece of paper, you don't have to sign it, tell them you want a judge to hear your case."

Perez was clear that Newark police was not working with ICE and rumors of checkpoints around the city were false. He urged residents to use the department as a resource if ICE agents come knocking. 

"If someone knocks on the door and they are claiming that they're ICE, you can call us. That's why we're there," Perez said. 

But the city acknowledged ICE could enforce federal immigration laws with or without the help of local officials. While local police can decline to participate, they cannot stop any actions. 

"If ICE comes to the city of Newark and decides to do a raid, we don't have the right to stop them," East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador said.

Police and city leaders reiterated that local law enforcement officers do not and cannot ask residents walking down the street for their immigration status. However, those who commit a crime will be arrested and are processed according to the law.  

"If somebody commits a crime, they're going to be arrested for that crime," Baraka said.

The city also encouraged residents to sign up for the municipal ID program which allows all residents -- regardless of immigration status -- access to the library, public pool and other city amenities. Since the program launched in 2015, 11,700 have signed up. 

Rosa Pizarro, an undocumented immigrant, said the meeting helped quell residents' fears and rumors spreading around the community.

"We need more opportunities to ask questions," she said. "We need to stay in communication."

Another community meeting is planned next month but the date has not been finalized.

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