PARSIPPANY – When is a “sanctuary city” not a sanctuary city?
Apparently when you don’t call it as such.
That seemed to be the message coming from new mayor Michael Soriano at his first town hall meeting Wednesday night in the township’s Mount Tabor section.
With most in the estimated crowd of 75 asking about road repair, drainage issues and the community library, one man suddenly raised a contentious national issue.
That was Michael Spector, a former Green Party candidate for mayor.
Spector said Parsippany should follow the lead of a number of other New Jersey cities with large immigrant populations and officially state it welcomes all. This would be a “sanctuary city,” although Spector did not use the exact term.
Parsippany is the largest municipality in Morris County with a population of about 50,000. Asians are the largest ethnic group.
Considering the non-political tone of the event, the mayor may have been caught by surprise. But he was quick on his feet and did not shy from the query.
His first point was that he doesn’t like the term, “sanctuary city,” calling it a “wedge issue.”
Few can argue that.
And that seems especially true with the Trump Administration threatening to cut off aid to cities that do not enforce federal immigration law, thereby giving “sanctuary” to those in the country illegally. Some cities say they’ll go to court if aid is cut.
With that backdrop, it was probably no surprise that Soriano wanted to avoid using the term, “sanctuary city.”
But then he essentially supported what sanctuary cities do without saying as much.
Soriano heaped praise on the Parsippany Police Department, saying they do a great job. And he said he wanted them to enforce local and state law, not federal law.
In fact, the mayor argued that asking local police to enforce federal law could divert their attention from the more basic job of community policing.
He also said he feared some crime victims and witnesses would be hesitant to talk to police if their immigration status was an issue.
And that, the mayor said, was not going to happen on his watch. The mayor’s position drew a smattering of applause from the crowd.
Some municipalities adopt formal resolutions proclaiming they welcome all residents and visitors regardless of immigration status. That’s what Spector wanted.
That seems unlikely to happen in Parsippany. However, by mandating police not to enforce federal immigration law, it looks like Parsippany will be a “sanctuary city.”
Even if it doesn’t officially call itself that.