By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — A group of local and state Latino leaders and their supporters gathered in front of City Hall in Atlantic City on Tuesday (Sept. 5) to denounce the language used by public officials last Friday who protested a White House proposal to move undocumented immigrants to the Atlantic City International Airport.
A rare gathering of Democratic and Republican elected officials — from Democratic Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small to Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew — demanded that Gov. Phil Murphy dissuade the Biden administration from pursuing moving immigrants from New York to Atlantic City.
Cristian Moreno-Rodriguez, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s briefing, said while there is an agreement that the U.S. immigration system is broken and there can be a healthy debate on what should be done about it, language at Friday’s news conference crossed the line into xenophobia and hate speech.
Particularly upsetting to many of the participants at Tuesday’s news conference were comments by Van Drew suggesting that there would be criminals among the immigrants that would come to Atlantic County.
“[You’ve got] drug cartels crossing our border and we can’t get them all,” Van Drew said on Friday. “We have people on the terror watch list and we can’t get them all. And those 60,000 people that they talk about, I guarantee you, I will put my name upon it, that there will be individuals who are criminals.”
State Sen. Vince Polistina also drew anger by saying, without any statistics, sourcing or proof, that immigrants are the cause of a whole host of social ills, including long lines at hospital emergency rooms, high inflation, lack of resources, the supply chain crisis, and even the speed the police respond to local 911 calls.
“Even worse, when people call 911 and need support, whether it’s medical support or law enforcement, 911 cannot respond as quickly as they ordinarily would because we are taking care of others who are not here legally. We have a crisis here in America.”
Moreno-Rodriguez and others like Jessica Grullon, from the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, Pleasantville businesswoman Celeste Fernandez and Yvette Soto of the Atlantic County Puerto Rican Parade Inc. slammed such comments as shameful and disrespectful. They said not only did some of the elected officials stoke fear in the community about immigrants, but did it with outright false and misleading information.
“Hate speech can lead to violence, intimidation and exclusion,” Irvin Moreno-Rodriguez, of El Pueblo Unidos, said of last Friday’s gathering.
Grullon, vice president of HAAC, said many of the comments made at Friday’s event “threw mud” at the name of the local Latino community. She stressed that immigrants were already in Atlantic County, holding down jobs, and contributing to the local economy and community without any of the fears discussed.
“How dare you refer to your own working-class people as criminals,” Grullon said. “I’m offended for my people, for my immigrant family who came to this country and made something of themselves.”
Grullon urged those offended by Friday’s event to vent their frustration at the ballot box in November.
Ben Albert, of Unite Here Local 54 casino workers union mocked Polistina’s assertion that immigrants were the cause of emergency room crowds, pointing to other well-documented causes of such long emergency room waits.
“We’re here to stand in solidarity with the people who bare the brunt of this,” Albert said. “Cristian said it best, we can have a real conversation and a great debate about our broken immigration system. But when it teethers into this coded racist rhetoric, we miss the opportunity to build real policy.”
Fernandez, who missed twice becoming the first Latina elected to the Atlantic County Board of Commissioners in two razor-thin elections, said she felt Friday’s news conference was “disrespectful” not only to immigrants but local Latinos as well.
“It was hard for me to listen to the message they were sending here last week,” Fernandez said. “They are telling us that they are afraid of us.”
Carolyn Rush, a Democrat who recently announced she is running for Van Drew’s Congressional seat next year, said if bringing 60,000 immigrants to the Atlantic County airport is not feasible for logistical and manpower reasons, those are fixable problems without the “vitriol” language used at Friday’s news conference.
“We can’t just say, no, just sleep on the ground in New York because we don’t want you,” Rush said. “What our politicians did on Friday, saying that they are criminals and terrorists and fentanyl dealers, was ridiculous.”
Rush said a better solution would have been to work with community leaders to find more suitable solutions than the airport in Egg Harbor Township instead of fearmongering.
Cristian Moreno-Rodriguez said Tuesday was the first of several actions the group will take in response to Friday’s news conference, including asking for apologies from the public officials who attended. He said many in the Latino community feel that the anti-immigrant language at Friday’s event couldn’t go unchallenged.
Others speaking on Tuesday include Carlos Castaneda of Movimento Cosecha NJ and Javier Soto, vice president of United Here Local 54.
Mayor Marty Small released a statement after Friday’s hearing saying that he was concerned about Atlantic City being used to leave the underserved at their doorstep to deal with the problem, harking back to cities that would give homeless and drug abusers tickets to Atlantic City to re-locate to.
“The initial report I read stated that the migrant hub would be in the Great City of Atlantic City, which I am extremely against,” Small said in a statement sent to Front Runner New Jersey.com. “Later on, I found out that the hub would be at Atlantic City International Airport which is located in Egg Harbor Township, just 10 miles from Atlantic City.
“The Great City of Atlantic City can relate to outside municipalities practicing ‘Greyhound Therapy’ in which they give people a one-way ticket here that ultimately contributes to the homeless and drug problem we are facing. This is a fine example of crossing party lines for the greater good of our county, but I want us to keep this unity and the same energy and stand in support of Atlantic City as people continuously dump their less fortunate in this great city.”
Follow Us Today On:
Note from AC JosepH Media: If you like this story and others posted on Front Runner New Jersey.com., lend us a hand so we can keep producing articles like these for New Jersey and the world to see. Click on SUPPORT FRNJ and make a contribution that will go directly in making more stories like this available. Thank you for reading.