Federal proposal to move migrants seeking asylum from NY to NJ

Response from local, county leaders turned into anti-immigrant speech

Immigrant advocates say governor’s comments made things worse

Days after Gov. Phil Murphy said he “doesn’t see” New Jersey taking in migrants from New York, immigrant advocates said the governor essentially gave an “open pass” to politicians who slurred immigrants.

"We are very disappointed in Gov. Murphy's position, just because one year ago he came out in support of accepting migrants and now he seems to have done a 180," El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City Executive Director Cristian Moreno-Rodriguez said to New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday.

Moreno-Rodriguez led a coalition of advocates in a post-Labor Day press conference, to hold politicians accountable for xenophobic comments made during a Friday event protesting any federal attempt to relocate migrants to the Atlantic City area.

Gov. Phil Murphy at Sept. 1, 2023 Labor Day event Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council Labor Day Observance Scholarship (Rich Hundley III_Governor’s Office)
Gov. Phil Murphy at Sept. 1, 2023 Labor Day event Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council Labor Day Observance Scholarship (Rich Hundley III_Governor’s Office)

Murphy ‘doesn’t see any scenario’ to move migrants to AC

As first reported Aug. 30 by Bloomberg, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials recently sent a list of 11 federally owned facilities — including A.C. airport — as possible locations to relocate some 60,000 migrants who have arrived in New York City.

“I don’t see any scenario where we are going to be able to take in a program in A.C. or frankly anywhere else in the state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a News 12 New Jersey program that aired later that Thursday.

Audio and a transcript were shared by Murphy's office on Tuesday with New Jersey 101.5.

The governor had been asked, “Where do you stand on housing migrants at an airport in our state? Would that also impose a security risk?”

“We would need scale, an enormous amount of federal support, and resources," he said. "Putting everything else aside, I just don’t see it and I would suspect that continues to be the case.”

Earlier on Thursday, state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn and Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger — all Monmouth County Republicans — called for the governor to immediately “intercede and protect Atlantic City Airport from being used as a metaphorical band-aid covering the failed immigration policies of the Biden Administration.”

“It is well past time for the Governor and our U.S. Senators to make it clear to New York City and Washington, D.C. that New Jersey will not tolerate their inabilities to implement real, effective changes to address the immigration crisis facing this nation.”

Murphy said of the airport proposal on Thursday that “we have not heard about this directly from the feds or the White House.”

“At least part of the opinion from the Republican legislators, I would agree with,” Murphy said during the News 12 program that aired Thursday, saying of the country’s immigration reform. “Let’s figure this situation out.”

Friday bipartisan event (Atlantic City.gov, Mayor Marty Small)
Friday bipartisan event (Atlantic City.gov, Mayor Marty Small)

Migrants to AC would include ‘criminals,’ Van Drew says

On Friday, Atlantic City’s mayor and several council members, Atlantic County Commissioners, state Assembly and Senate members and U.S. Congressman Jeff Van Drew attended a bipartisan news conference to present a “united front” against any plan to relocate migrants to the area.

"We're standing as a united front for the possibility of the migrants going to Egg Harbor Township,” Small said at the event, noting the airport was actually 10 miles out of the city limits.

“I want us all to keep up that same energy because in my experience as mayor, Atlantic City has been the perennial dumping ground," he said.

Van Drew said that he could "guarantee" that criminals would be among any migrants brought to the airport.

State Sen. Vince Polistina said that long hospital wait times or slower local response to 911 were because “they're taking care of immigrants instead of Americans first.”

(courtesy El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City)
(courtesy El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City)

Scapegoating NJ immigrant community ‘crossing the line,’ advocates say

“When you start characterizing an entire community of immigrants as criminals, as part of drug cartels as being on terror watch lists — now you’re crossing the line,” Moreno-Rodriguez said.

“What we’re not going to do is tolerate the scapegoating of our community,” he said, adding that Friday’s message went from condemning a specific White House policy proposal regarding the relocation of migrants to the area and spiraled into xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech.

He said that the silence of others at Friday’s event made them complicit in the comments delivered, even if they said they were immigrant allies in the past.

Moreno-Rodriguez also said that the governor essentially sided with critics by saying the state could not accept migrants, and opened the floodgates to extreme rhetoric against immigrants and Murphy’s own past policies.

Moreno-Rodriguez also condemned hypocrisy by Mayor Small and other politicians — saying that anyone speaking out against undocumented immigrants in the area or in this country should not go out to eat — where many jobs are filled by such community members — and don’t hire them “when you need services performed on your property or in your house.”

“It’s hypocrisy at its worst — you abuse our labor, but when it comes to giving us rights and dignity somehow it’s an issue,” Moreno-Rodriguez said.

A request for a reaction from the governor’s office on Moreno-Rodriguez’s comments was not immediately answered Tuesday.

Read More: Atlantic City Airport, EHT can't handle migrant influx, pols say 

In 2019, Murphy’s administration backed off describing NJ as a “sanctuary state,” despite Murphy having used the phrase during his campaign for governor. He had previously said during a debate that “if need be, we will be a sanctuary not just city but state.”

Other speakers at Tuesday’s event were members of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, Movimiento Cosecha NJ, organizers of the Atlantic County Puerto Rican Parade and union leaders from Unite Here Local 54, which represents hospitality workers in the area.

“Isn’t it sad that one of the only times that Republicans and Democrats get together, they start scapegoating an entire community,” said another advocate at Tuesday's event, Carlos Castañeda of Movimiento Cosecha NJ.

Jessica Grullon of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County said that Friday’s comments about the humanitarian crisis of migrants seeking asylum were “tone deaf” and “gaslighting at its finest.”

“How dare you refer to your own working class people as criminals — and disrespect their name,” Grullon said, adding that the same politicians would be pandering to Latino voters ahead of the November election.

Atlantic City Councilman 'denounces immigrant bashing'

By early Tuesday afternoon, Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz released a written statement that “denounced immigrant bashing” at the Friday event, which he did attend.

“There was bipartisan consensus and agreement that the area could not support, sustain or accommodate a massive influx of immigrants,” Shabazz said, continuing that consensus was “breached when some speakers resorted to ‘speaking points’ that targeted immigrants, used extreme rhetoric and gave a distorted view of all immigrants.”

“We are better when we are inclusive, welcoming and open to all legal entrances to our country,” he continued.

“The sweeping consensus that was reached should not be dimmed by inappropriate appeals to divisive forces and language,” Shabazz said.

Atlantic City Airport (Google Maps)
Atlantic City Airport (Google Maps)

Atlantic City Airport as federal property

When created in 1942, Atlantic City International Airport was originally a Naval Air Station on 4,312 acres leased from Atlantic City.

In 1958, the lease was transferred to what is now the Federal Aviation Administration.

The South Jersey Transportation Authority was created in 1991.

A year later, the SJTA acquired from Atlantic City the civil terminal area of the airport, which is 84 acres in Egg Harbor Township.

In 2013, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey entered a 15-year agreement to provide management services at Atlantic City International Airport.

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