July 27, 2006

Riverside Officials Use Segregation Tactics

CONLAMIC Voices Opposition of Anti-Immigrant Ordinance

Riverside, NJ –On July 26th, the President of the National Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) hundreds of Latino Christian congregation members from churches in and around the Riverside Township vicinity, were waiting outside City Hall to attend the public hearing to voice their opposition on an anti-immigrant ordinance. This ordinance is meant to punish business and property owners who aid undocumented immigrants. What Latino leaders found at the steps of City Hall was straight out of the pages of history – tactics used against African Americans during the times of segregation. All in efforts to bring an ordinance to Riverside that CONLAMIC believes will breed hostility and increase discrimination within this community that can spread to other parts of the state.

“Last night as Pastors and other Latino’s were gathered at the door of City Hall, we were informed without prior notification that the hearings had been moved to another location. This tactic had been used during the times of segregation against African Americans, “said Reverend Miguel Rivera, President of CONLAMIC. “It was clearly the intention of Riverside officials to fool Latino’s who came to the hearing because it took us time to walk several blocks to the school auditorium and when we arrived there were over 1,500 white residents already seated at the hearing.”

It was obvious that the Riverside officials made a concerted effort to mobilize residents of this small town, in order to assure passage of ordinance 16, the so called Immigration Relief Act, aimed at punishing undocumented residents in addition to business and property owners who assist or aid them.

Mayor Charles Hilton highlighted four issues in the ordinance, (1) that thousands of illegal immigrants are residing in Riverside and were not counted in the last census leading to thousands of public discretionary dollars lost to the community; (2) A major increase in public expenses such as school water and road restorations dollars have resulted due to this “illegal” immigrant community (less than 4% of the community are immigrants); (3) these individuals cause traffic problems such as lack of parking spaces for residents and the bring the constant presence of PA vehicles into town; and (4) an increase of building and occupancy violations due to the renting of apartments to a high volume of people, was to be considered a safety concern to the community.

The Rev. Miguel Rivera, President of CONLAMIC, the largest Latino Christian advocacy organization in nation, testified "let me first commend the members of the Riverside City Council for bringing attention to what we have being saying in Washington D.C. for the last three years, that present immigration laws are deficient and that immigration reforms are needed in order to bring a comprehensive solution that affects the legal residents of our nation and over 12 million hard working, tax paying undocumented people in this country.” Hostile members in the hearing were escorted out of the building by police as the Reverend went on to say, “be assured that we as Clergy and Christian leaders strongly support fair enforcement of the law, however, housing or occupancy violations are due to be corrected by a fair implementation of the existing codes in Riverside. These efforts need to be applied not only to those sections of the community where new immigrants reside, but all over the boundaries of Riverside.”

While CONLAMIC supports enforcement of traffic and other community laws, there is concern that this ordinance will lead to racial profiling and other policing abuses. Racial profiling has been battled in the state of New Jersey. Every town should be committed to eradicate this practice. Furthermore, business and property owners should be very concerned about the economic future of a community whose leadership is anti-immigrant.

The ordinance was unanimously approved. CONLAMIC is encouraging litigators to explore this case and this may lead to overturning the ordinance. “Council Members of Riverside should bring together religious leaders and the community of this beautiful township of Riverside, and work toward a sound and lawful implementation of real solutions that will unite communities rather than divide them,” said Rev. Rivera.

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