Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Overcrowding - Asbury Park Press - Ordinance targets Illegals

Published in the
Asbury Park Press on 10/17/06

Ordinance would fine those renting to illegal immigrants


KEYPORT — Landlords would be fined for renting to illegal immigrants under an ordinance the Borough Council is expected to consider tonight.

The ordinance, proposed earlier this month by Councilman Joseph Wedick, would allow the borough to fine landlords $1,000 for each time officials found out that a residential unit had been rented to someone who is not in the country legally.

The ordinance would be another way the borough could penalize landlords who allow too many people to crowd into apartments or homes, Wedick said.

"This is the borough's way of protecting those without a voice," said Wedick, who noted his ordinance is not meant to target Hispanics or other ethnic groups. "I'm not looking to arrest, deport or fine anyone who is illegal. I'm taking on the landlords."

The proposed ordinance drew criticism on Monday from the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders, who gathered outside of Borough Hall to speak out against it.

"This is a racist ordinance with the sole purpose of getting rid of all Latinos in Keyport," said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, the coalition's president. "We are ready to file a lawsuit in federal court should it ever be adopted."

Rivera said members of his organization and the American Civil Liberties Union are expected to attend tonight's meeting to monitor what council says and does and prepare for any future actions.

Under the ordinance Wedick proposed, a code enforcement officer or a police officer would be allowed to ask about the legal status of the resident of a dwelling should Keyport receive complaints about an address or if the landlord was applying for a certificate of occupancy.

Residents would prove their legal status by showing any of the same documents one must produce to obtain a driver's license in New Jersey, Wedick said.

Keyport has a growing Hispanic population, many of whom work in Bayshore restaurants or cut lawns in the region, said Geno Rivera, the owner of a Front Street store, Grocery Los Paisanos, that caters to immigrants.

With low pay and high rents, it is natural that few can afford to rent an apartment on their own, noted Rivera, who said he does not understand why the borough would target illegals.

"Everyone here works hard, if not harder, to get by," said Rivera in Spanish. "Rent isn't cheap, so what are people going to do?"

Existing borough ordinances should be used to deal with the overcrowding issues that Wedick has raised, Keyport Mayor John Merla said, not an ordinance that he believes targets those looking to get a toehold in this country.

"If there's overcrowding in this town, I want to find out where it is," said Merla, who contends the proposed ordinance is embarrassing for Keyport. "But I don't think it makes sense for a local municipality to try to enforce something that falls in the federal realm."

Council President Robert Bergen said he asked Borough Attorney John Wisniewski to hold off on revising a sample ordinance that Wedick submitted earlier this month until council meets tonight and reaches a consensus on how it feels about the issue.

"Frankly, I believe this stands little chance of withstanding a legal challenge," said Bergen, who is also against the ordinance.

Wedick said no one on the council voiced any opinion against his proposal when he pitched it earlier this month. He said he is ready to fight any legal challenge by outside entities.

"If they want to protect landlords who hand out candles to people so they'll stay warm, that's absolutely their right," Wedick said. "I'm looking to stand up for these people."

Kevin Penton: (732) 888-2617 or kpenton@app.com

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.