July 26, 2006

Latino Organizations Bring Protest to Riverside

By TODD MCHALE - Burlington County Times

RIVERSIDE — A national Latino organization and more than a dozen supporters from across the state came to Riverside last night to voice their opposition to an immigration ordinance proposed by the Township Council.

Members of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders and numerous others held a prayer vigil in front of the township's municipal building to protest a township ordinance aimed at punishing those who aid or abet illegal immigrants.

“Mayor (Charles) Hilton's intentions with this ordinance are clearly anti-immigrant and discriminate against Latinos, especially since this would only be enforceable by adopting racial profiling and would be a tool placed in the hands of Riverside Township police and other city officials,” said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the coalition.

Hilton and other council members said they introduced the “Illegal Immigration Relief Act” last month in order to deal with an influx of illegal immigrants who have made Riverside home in recent years.

If adopted, the ordinance would prohibit an illegal alien from leasing or renting property in town. Any property owner, renter, tenant or lessee who knowingly allows an illegal alien to use, rent or lease their property would be in violation of the ordinance and could be fined an amount no less than $1,000.

Any for-profit business, or its subsidiaries, that hires or attempts to hire an illegal alien or funds or establishes a day labor center that does not verify legal work status would be in violation of the ordinance.

In addition to a fine of no less than $1,000, businesses found in violation of the ordinance, whether it be in Riverside or anywhere else in the United States, would be denied a business permit, the renewal of a business permit, township contracts or grants for a period not less than five years from the time of the last offense.

Angela M. Gonzales, director of Servicios Latinos de Burlington County, said she is concerned about what this will do to numerous families that have established roots in the community.
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“What are these families going to do?” Gonzales asked. “Some have been here for 10 years.”
Gonzales said enforcement of the ordinance is likely going to result in many families being displaced.

“My main concern is for the children who were born in the U.S.,” Gonzales said. “What are we going to do with the children? It's going to be devastating.”

Members of the coalition, the largest Latino Christian advocacy organization in the nation, said they stand against the ordinance due to its “hostile nature and the fact it discriminates against Latinos ...”

“It's going to create more division in the community,” Rivera said. “It's a great shame that Mayor Hilton is unable to see the economic advantage that hardworking immigrants bring to our communities, which keep Riverside Township and our nation competitive. If this ordinance passes, it will not only increase discrimination, it will also punish business and property owners, which will hurt Riverside Township's economic growth.”

Committee members have said illegal immigration has led to overcrowding in some residences and in the township schools, and to a diminished quality of life for legal residents.
Gonzales and Rivera said they understand there's a need for immigration reform, but believe the township's proposed ordinance oversteps its authority.

“This is a federal problem,” Gonzales said. “The federal government is currently debating the issue. They should be the one to implement immigration reform.”

Earlier yesterday, Rivera contacted the state Attorney General's Office and sent a letter to Gov. Jon Corzine in hopes of some intervention on the matter.

He said if the ordinance is passed, the coalition would likely take the matter to court.

“Constitutionally, they do not have the right to do this,” Rivera said of the implications of local officials enforcing immigration laws.

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