NORTHFIELD, N.J. — Dozens of immigrant-community activists packed an Atlantic County freeholders meeting Tuesday to say they were upset that the elected officials had considered a resolution that would support “continued collaborative efforts” with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The freeholders on Monday pulled the measure from the agenda following public outcry after it was posted Friday. But members of Latino and African community organizations attended the session to support Atlantic County’s sizable immigrant population.
The resolution sought to clarify the county’s interactions with ICE regarding “the handling of undocumented aliens.” Opponents said it was worded with jargon that made it difficult to understand, and condemned the description of immigrants as “aliens."
Celeste Fernandez, second vice president of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County and a Democrat who ran against the sponsor of the resolution, Republican Frank Formica, in 2018, said the measure “filled us with fear.”
“Using these words is not acceptable,” Fernandez said. “This is our life. Our family’s life.”
Formica said the measure was intended to distinguish Atlantic County from the actions that other New Jersey counties, such as Cape May, are taking to collaborate with ICE.
Just last week, the Atlantic City Press reported that the Cape May County freeholders passed a resolution to support the sheriff’s decision to continue a program that lets local authorities perform the functions of ICE agents. At least two people are being held in the county jail under the program.
“It was ambiguous enough to get the negative reaction," Formica said of the Atlantic County resolution. "As soon as I got the negative reaction, I pulled the resolution myself. Besides being a freeholder, I come from a family of immigrants.”
He said the resolution also sought to recognize a directive state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued in November limiting the voluntary assistance state and local law enforcement officers could provide to immigration authorities. The directive states that New Jersey does not provide sanctuary to people who commit crimes in the state.
The freeholders said the resolution submitted by Formica would be reviewed and rephrased if it is brought up for consideration again.
“Words really matter, especially in such sensitive times as we are living now,” said Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick.
Cristian Moreno-Rodriguez, the advocacy chair for the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, said that instead of associating immigrants with criminal activity, the resolution should have mentioned the population’s positive contributions to society and the economy.