With concern growing over President Donald J. Trump’s aggressive immigration policies. South Orange has joined neighboring towns in becoming a sanctuary city.
The town now joins municipalities like Princeton, Maplewood and Newark in putting forth a resolution outlining how they will protect immigrants. The Village President, Sheena Collum, said the resolution already reflected much of what South Orange believed and practiced; it was just time to commit it to paper.
“South Orange has long been known for being a welcoming community and (the) resolution reaffirms our commitment to equal, respectful and dignified treatment to all people, regardless of their immigration status,” Collum said via email.
The resolution to become a sanctuary city passed 4 to 1. The resolution outlines various guidelines to protect immigrants in the town. According to Collum, “No department, employee or official of the Village shall condition the provision of services on immigration status or seek to obtain information about the citizenship or immigration status of any persons.”
In addition, Collum stated that the South Orange Police Department has not and will not enforce federal immigration laws nor help facilitate Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportations, except where legally required to do so by law (specifically after an individual has been arrested for a serious violation of State criminal law).
The decision to pass this resolution came after about 200 people attended a rally in downtown South Orange on Feb. 6 led by advocacy group SOMA Action (South Orange Maplewood), with a mission of standing in solidarity with Muslim and immigration communities and urging the South Orange Board of Trustees to become a sanctuary city.
This resolution did raise some concerns. Trump’s executive order on immigration signed last month promised to cut federal funding to “sanctuary” municipalities that interfere or conflict with the relationship or communication between federal and local law enforcement agencies. However, Collum and the team consulted with immigration experts and attorneys and they now believe the South Orange resolution will not result in a loss of funding, as it specifically notes that nothing enacted conflicts with any obligation imposed by federal or state statutes and regulations. However, if any actions are taken to take away or infringe on funding, Collum said they will fight back.
“Even in a worst case scenario, we will legally challenge any and all actions that threaten our funding with our partners around the country,” Collum said. “Moreover, there’s clear precedent set in Supreme Court rulings that the federal government can only with
hold funding to localities if the money is relevant ‘to the federal interest in the project.’ We don’t currently (and haven’t) had any grants that relate to immigration,” Collum said.
With this fear in mind, many towns around the country have been using names other than “sanctuary city,” like “welcoming city.” Collum said it was important to stand firm and call South Orange a “sanctuary city.”
“Words matter,” Collum said. “To those who are the most vulnerable to recent Executive Orders and the directives coming out of the administration, I think they know very well what a sanctuary city is as opposed to many towns who are using a Welcoming Community resolution. The substantive points are the same between the two models. For me, the language made it easier to communicate who we are as a community.”
According to Ravi Shah, Village Relations chairman of the Student Government Association (SGA), students at SHU tend to agree.
“It seems to be that the values of South Orange are also reflected in our student body through its Student Government Association,” Shah said via email. “Therefore, the sanctuary city resolution will not greatly impact the student body, rather it embodies the opinions of many students.”
Divine Tanamal, a freshman business marketing major, has talked to The Setonian in the past about frustration with the Trump immigration ban. When Tanamal heard news of South Orange becoming a sanctuary city, she said she was pleased.
“I think that our local leaders have been kind of passive towards this, so I applaud that our Village President is willing to take a stand,” Tanamal said in an email interview. “It’s reassuring to know that South Orange is sympathetic towards this issue.”
Seton Hall Student Government came together on Feb. 6 to sign the SGA DACA resolution calling for protection for undocumented students in Seton Hall’s community. According to CNN, a Homeland Security official told reporters on Tuesday that none of Trump’s most recent executive orders will affect DACA.
Still, Collum applauds students at SHU for taking a stand on anti-immigration policies.
“Seton Hall is located within the jurisdiction of South Orange, so our resolution applies to all students, faculty, staff and guests of the Seton Hall community,” Collum said. “Know that South Orange is now sanctuary city and that we truly value and respect all members of our collective communities. I also encourage students to continue their advocacy work, that’s what student leadership is all about.”
Shah agreed, “South Orange and Seton Hall University are both diverse communities. Consequentially, this resolution meets eye to eye with the SGA DACA resolution and ties both students and town residents together. I think this strengthens the relationship between the school and the town.”
Siobhan McGirl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org