Transcript - October 19, 2007
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW.
Let's start out with a point of agreement: the U.S. has to do something about immigration. That alone is not controversial. Everyone from immigrant rights advocates to those who oppose illegal-immigration, would all agree: the current immigration policy is a disaster. Beyond that, consensus collapses: do we grant amnesty to some of the estimated 12 million people living here without permission? All of them? If so, when and how? Questions like this have paralyzed both the White House and Congress. And in the absence of a national solution, local communities are coming up with their own, often very different solutions.
Kathleen Hughes produced our tale of two cities.
BRANCACCIO: Morristown, New Jersey, a commuter suburb 45 minutes west of New York City, site of one of George Washington's headquarters during the Revolutionary War. "History Still in the Making" is the town's slogan, and they aren't kidding.
WOMAN: Stop racist deportation.
MAN: Lock 'em —Scum bag
BRANCACCIO: This 'burb of 18-thousand residents is not the kind of place where you'd expect to see such raw anger over illegal immigration.
MAN: You have an accent.
WOMAN: I speak six languages, do you?
MAN: You weren't born here.
BRANCACCIO: But that's what was on display at a rally here last summer.
CROWD: "Together we will! - Fight back!"
WOMAN: I want my country back! F—- you! Go the hell home! Stop robbing our pocket book!
MAN: Hey you gotta calm down.
WOMAN: I'm going to have a heart attack.
BRANCACCIO: But increasingly it's in places like Morristown where the nation's deep divide over the issue is painfully evident.
In New Jersey as many as one in 25 people are said to be in this state without legal permission.
Last spring when Congress failed —for the third time—to pass comprehensive immigration reform, it effectively left state and local officials holding the bag.
Local officials like this man—Morristown Mayor Don Cresitello.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: Some people have asked me why is the Mayor of the town of Morristown involved in this debate. The mayor of Morristown wants to enforce the law!
BRANCACCIO: The clash here in Morristown started when Cresitello asked the federal government to deputize some of his local cops as federal immigration agents -with the power to do what local law enforcement usually cannot - begin deportation proceedings on illegal immigrants caught breaking the law.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: God bless America!! Thank you for coming!
BRANCACCIO: Over the last two years dozens of local and state governments around the country have passed measures cracking down on unauthorized immigrants. Measures that include everything from banning foreign language signs to making it illegal to hire or rent to undocumented people. Hundreds of other communities are debating such measures.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: People are just fed up with the illegal immigration. They feel violated.
They just don't like the fact that somebody can walk across the border. It's as if they opened a door and walked into your home and sat down at your table and said, "feed me".
BRANCACCIO: Cresitello emphasizes he has no beef with legal immigrants. His parents brought that last name of his from Italy about 100 years ago. It's the immigrants who crossed the border illegally he hopes to scare away from Morristown with his no tolerance approach. Workers who are drawn to the booming construction and service industries in this part of New Jersey... And who are rapidly changing the town's complexion: especially around the train station where dozens line up each morning looking for day labor.
But not all local towns are taking a get tough approach to the challenges of illegal immigration. Welcome to Hightstown, about an hour south of Morristown.
MAYOR Patten: Thank you all very much for coming. No hable english... uh espanol, and she is going to speak for me.
BRANCACCIO: This what Hightown's mayor Bob Patten does just about every weekend...officiates at weddings often of new immigrants. Here it's Celia and Adriano, originally from Eduador.
Performing weddings, Patten says, is just one way for him to get to know the new people moving into town. He says he performs about 50 weddings a year - never asking the bride and groom about citizenship, visas, or greencards.
MAYOR PATTEN: Felicidades...congratulations
BRANCACCIO: Patten, a former gym teacher, says that until the federal government comes up with a plan, Hightstown's approach to immigration will be to keep order and protect everyone who obeys local laws, like this newly married couple...
MAYOR PATTEN: We don't ask people what their immigration status is now. We simply want to treat everybody justly, fairly. There's a due process.
This is great cake.
I'm disappointed that the United States Senate did not really address the immigration reform—initiative that was out there. They got an F as far as I'm concerned.
And that's adding to the—this whole problem that each community throughout the nation is dealing with. That we're looking for some leadership so that we can have a United States. But, we—they failed us and now it's up to—to me as mayor to—to try to do something in our own community.
BRANCACCIO: Patten says it doesn't matter how Celia and Adriano got here, American law affords them the same civil rights as any citizen born here.
MAYOR PATTEN: People have forgotten all about the Constitution who have been here all their lives. I am reminded of it, because of my position now. And —I have to ensure that, that our—community members are going to be treated justly.
BRANCACCIO: But some of those community members might have violated the law by coming across the U.S. boarder illegally.
MAYOR PATTEN: They trespassed, that's all. They came over here. It becomes a federal matter, not—not—not a—a—a municipal matter.
BRANCACCIO: Hightstown, population 5,300, has joined a growing number of so-called "sanctuary" cities and towns - around a 100 from Seattle to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Not the kind of places usually headed up by Republicans.
MAYOR PATTEN: My colleagues are all Democrats, so we have learned to blend our political differences into something that is really harmony.
BRANCACCIO: It was Patten the Republican, who sold his Democratic town council colleagues on the idea.
BRANCACCIO: Do you like that term? Sanctuary?
MAYOR PATTEN: I look at a sanctuary not as where criminals can be immune from the law. But, a sanctuary would be a place of comfort where you are treated fairly, equally, respectively. And we do have a sanctuary in that definition.
BRANCACCIO: Back in Morristown...
One evening last month Mayor Cresitello, a Democrat, took me around to see where he says illegal immigrants are causing problems.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: So, this is a very residential neighborhood and yet—somebody will buy a single family home and put 15 people in it.
BRANCACCIO: Overcrowded housing has created fire and safety hazards, some right in Cresitello's own neighborhood.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: This—this particular house had—activities that—allegedly, because the trial hasn't taken place yet, involved prostitution and drug dealing—money laundering and false documents.
So that's one block from my home, and one block from the homes of—of many people who simply don't want to tolerate illegal activity.
BRANCACCIO: Unlike Hightstown, Morristown has a train station.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: This train station is a magnet because people come from other communities in the morning—seek work here. And the contractors will pull up here, pull up across the street and four or five guys will attack a truck and say 'will you hire me for the day?' in whatever language they can use. And they'll jump in and they'll drive off.
BRANCACCIO: Cresitello says that what his fellow mayor does in Hightstown has no bearing on Morristown.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: Morristown's a different community. If he wants to make Hightstown a sanctuary community let him do that. But maybe he hasn't had a little boy raped and murdered in his community.
BRANCACCIO: This happened here?
MAYOR CRESITELLO: Happened here six years ago.
BRANCACCIO: What infuriates him, he says, is that the man who murdered the boy six years ago had at least two prior arrests. Instead of being released, Cresitello says, the man should have been deported, but local police never asked about his immigration status.
Traditionally deportation has been the province of federal agents only....but under a program called 287 g administered by Homeland Security it's now possible for some local police to get in on this. ....Morristown is one of about a dozen of state and local agencies waiting to hear whether they've been approved for the program.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: I'm not suggesting that all of these people are involved in criminal activities. But for everyone it is who's here illegally that's one more that didn't need to be here. We have enough problems with our own crime.
BRANCACCIO: Cresitello insists that immigrants who obey the law have nothing to fear from 287 g ...the program he says, would simply be an extra tool to use when going after the bad guys.
But he's stirred up a political hornet's nest. Cresitello's fellow Democrat, New Jersey governor John Corzine says 287 g is a bad idea: immigration policy the governor says "should not be addressed piecemeal at the local level."
But it's at the local level where people are perhaps the most upset.
DEL GIUDICE: Right along here where the—this is Morris Avenue here...
BRANCACCIO: Phil Del Giudice and Michael Fabrizio head up the town's business association called the Morristown Partnership. They say most business owners back the mayor.
DEL GIUDICE: The mayor is —is one mayor who's actually trying to do something, taking a bull by the horns, through a program that's been offered to municipalities, through the federal government.
BRANCACCIO: Most of their concerns however, have less to do with serious crime. It's more the problems caused by workers lingering on the streets.
DEL GUIDICE: It severely impacts business whereby—if you had 100 people standing outside of your retail establishment—which happens—just about on a daily basis here in Morristown, by the train station, and there are businesses in that area who will tell you that business has dropped. That people—will not walk down the street there. Especially ladies. Comments are made. Things of that nature.
FABRIZIO: They feel intimidated.
DEL GUIDICE: They're intimidated.
BRANCACCIO: Giving Morristown police more power can only help they say.
FABRIZIO: It's wrong to take that position, that Morristown is by—some way being racist or unfair.
FABRIZIO: I know many of the local policemen, I know the chief. Morristown would never abuse this, by any stretch of the imagination. This wouldn't be a jaywalker who's now thrown out of the country because they jaywalked.
BRANCACCIO: Raul Silva, a native of Columbia, is owner of this popular Empanada shop in Morristown. Silva has lived in the United States for more than 20 years, the last eight of them as a citizen. He says that in spite of assurances that the 287g program would only target criminals, many law abiding immigrants are frightened.
SILVA: Come and get it.
And it's gonna be a big mess in this town, and the things get that far. For everybody.
BRANCACCIO: Between the lines, Silva says Latinos hear a general hostility in the mayor's rhetoric.
SILVA: He doesn't want anything for the Latino community. And the only—answer from him is, "Just get rid of them."
Hello, how you doing today? Welcome.
BRANCACCIO: Silva believes that most people come to the United States for a better life. Like he did 20 years ago.
SILVA: The idea of that we are good for nothing, that we are taking away jobs, that we're taking away houses. And that's not true. We're here to work, to help, to progress.
BRANCACCIO: But talk of progress was drowned out this past summer when a shocking crime in Newark, New Jersey's largest city, gave Cresitello's argument for local police involvement a boost. Three college students were brutally murdered, allegedly by a group of six people, including one, police say, originally from Peru in this country illegally.
If investigators are right, he committed the murders while out on bail on charges of child molesting...
Lou Dobbs: This is Lou Dobbs tonight...
BRANCACCIO: The fact that Newark, like Hightstown, is a sanctuary city, wasn't lost on the media commentators.
LOU DOBBS: New developments in the execution-style slayings of three young people in the sanctuary city of Newark, New Jersey. One of the suspects is a criminal illegal alien.
BRANCACCIO: Back down in Hightstown, Bob Patten says the tragedy in Newark hasn't persuaded him to change course...
MAYOR PATTEN: Hey, What's happening?
MAYOR PATTEN: Good.
RESIDENT: Hey Mayor how you doing?
MAYOR PATTEN: Duncan what are you doing?
BRANCACCIO: He says studies show that illegal immigrants are actually less dangerous than the rest of the population...And, he believes, local police are more effective when people in town are not afraid of them.
His thinking on the subject was sharpened about two and a half years ago, after a raid by federal agents on this apartment complex terrified residents.
ABAD: This is the video for so people can see their family members overseas.
BRANCACCIO: Karen Abad who owns a telecommunications business catering to immigrants here in town watched helplessly back then as her father was deported to Ecuador.
ABAD: And they came and knocked on the door at five in the morning. And they just took my dad. They didn't care that—you know. I had a younger brother. My mom was there. They didn't care.
They just go and take the person who they want, who never had a criminal record or anything. And they just take him. They break a family apart.
But it's just amazing how one piece of paper can break a family apart.
BRANCACCIO: Patten wants to make sure that people in the community understand their constitutional rights.
MAYOR PATTEN: We've had situations in the past, where people will call one of my contact people, who will say, "Listen, we got immigration knockin' on the door. They don't want to open up. What should we do?"
And then, they'll either refer to an attorney. An attorney might come on over, "look, if you don't have a warrant, get out of here."
Teacher: With 's' or without 's'?
Class: With 's'.
Teacher: With 's' right? She cooks.
BRANCACCIO: Meanwhile the town has made English as a second language courses available for free at the local library...
Teacher: One more time here.
BRANCACCIO: ...And police have held health fairs and other events aimed at making people feel comfortable.
MAYOR PATTEN: Our crime is down. We have people now who are reporting crimes. We have people who are witnesses.
BRANCACCIO: Patten has found allies...even among some tough Jersey guys. Meet George Serrano...
SERRANO: You can't drink and drive. You can't walk or drink. You can't have open containers. And that's good. That way these—the illegals understand that they got to live—they're in America you gotta follow the rules and regulations of America.
BRANCACCIO:... Serrano is the super of the town's private low income housing complex —and has become the mayor's unofficial liaison to the immigrant community...
SERRANO: I know everybody real well. They all know me.
BRANCACCIO: About 400 people live in this complex...the vast majority are immigrants...Serrano says that with backing from the mayor and the housing inspector he's brought these once over-crowded and derelict buildings up to code.
He's always on the lookout for overcrowded conditions
On this day he's discovered that one of his tenants is renting out a closet.
SERRANO: You know, they set up a stereo, the TV, the DVD. They even have surround system in there. They got the works. A one-man room.
BRANCACCIO: The man was paying 300 dollars a month for this closet space. He has to leave, but Serrano is helping him find another, more appropriate place.
SERRANO: Do you speak English?
BRANCACCIO: Serrano's mother immigrated from Mexico. His father from Puerto Rico. Even though he's a tough-guy when it comes to rules, he's got a lot of empathy for his tenants...
SERRANO: They work two full-time job. That's 16 hours a day. Know, what kinda sleep do they get? They're always on that—they sell a drink that keep them up—Red Bull. They're famous for buyin' these Red Bulls. You see cases of Red Bull on this community. And I tell them, this ain't no good for you. You're gonna die.
MAYOR Patten: There's a renaissance going on because...
BRANCACCIO: All that hard work by local immigrants Patten says, has helped revitalize Hightstown's once crumbling main street...immigrant owned shops and businesses...are flourishing here.
MAYOR PATTEN: I'm very proud of the diversity we have in our town. It's like a United Nations actually in the central New Jersey area.
BRANCACCIO: So here's a shop that has soccer Jersey's. It has some pretty cool looking Spanish language DVDs that you can buy.
SHOP OWNER: Everything...A little bit of everything.
MAYOR Patten: I would like you to meet Amy.
BRANCACCIO: Hi, how do you do? I'm David.
Amy: Hi. Nice to meet you.
David: What do you think of the work this man is doing?
Amy: Oh he's so nice! ...yeah, he's very well...you know
MAYOR PATTEN: When you have people who are—are buying products and services and they're contributing to the community, they're paying taxes, sales taxes—you know—what—they're renting a—an apartment—you know, part of their—their fees are going towards to pay the property taxes—it's very beneficial.
MAYOR PATTEN: Nice to see you.
RAYMOND: Hey, my pleasure, Bob Raymond.
BRANCACCIO: Still, the mayor often bumps into residents who see things differently.
RAYMOND: This is America and they're welcome everywhere but I just
think the culture in this town is changing quick and maybe too quick if
you would. I think we kind of cater to them if you would, I hope they
don't take that as a personal but I think we do.
BRANCACCIO: Some towns see immigrants as taking jobs from people
who are citizens, worked hard, tried to live by the rules.
MAYOR PATTEN: That—to me, that's an argument that doesn't—shouldn't even exist. They're not taking jobs. There's a need for the—the—the domestic type jobs. People are cleaning houses, babysitting—cutting the lawns—the landscaping, the construction workers. They're not taking jobs away from anybody.
BRANCACCIO: It's on the economic impact of illegal immigration that perhaps the most vitriol and the least amount of solid data exists...
Some workers do pay taxes ... economists estimate as much as 8 and a half billion into Social Security and Medicare each year..... immigrants pay sales tax when they buy and property taxes even indirectly through their rent which generate many more dollars for government coffers...
But up in Morristown where a big downtown renovation is underway Mayor Cresitello insists that his city pays out more in services to immigrants than it will ever get back from any local tax revenues they generate.
You really see these immigrants as so costly? I mean don't they at some level contribute to the economy?
MAYOR CRESITELLO: Yes they're contributing, cause there's cheap labor, some. But some are also taking from the economy. Our school system is paying $20,000 to educate a—a student who's—who may be here illegally, and maybe $15,000 to educate one that's not, because of the need for special education.
BRANCACCIO: But because New Jersey law states that every child must be educated with no questions asked, Cresitello can't produce reliable numbers on what the schools are actually spending.
But one thing he is sure of —undocumented workers are taking jobs from local residents.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: I mean who was doing the work in Morristown ten years ago? Who was painting the houses and washing the dishes at the local diner? And who was cleaning the toilets at the hotel?
BRANCACCIO: New Jersey's Governor has set up a task force to help figure out what the impact of immigration is throughout the state.
But Mayor Cresitello is not waiting for it's findings...Recently he announced a new crackdown effort: this time he says on the real culprits -the employers of undocumented workers.
You really wanna get into this business of enforcing those immigration laws?
MAYOR CRESITELLO: It is absolutely a criminal act to hire an illegal. And it's a criminal act to ask them for a job. It's a criminal act for them to ask to be hired. And I don't know why people keep trying to say that it's not. The—the law is clear.
BRANCACCIO: In this letter to the US Attorney Cresitello says under existing federal law employers could spend anywhere from six months to 10 years in the slammer.
The US Attorney and the New Jersey Attorney General have told the mayor he has little local authority to go after employers...
But he made his point.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: I wouldn't be sitting here tonight if everybody in this country who's charged with the enforcement of immigration statutes just did their job a little bit we wouldn't be having this discussion.
BRANCACCIO: In fact it's on this subject—the failure of Congress to develop comprehensive immigration policies that you find some common ground between the two mayors....Both say it's time for Congress to draft legislation that brings order to the chaos.
But Congress isn't expected to act on immigration reform till after the 2008 election.
Meanwhile both mayors plan to continue along the divergent paths that they've set.
MAYOR CRESITELLO: Good morning. How are you? Hey guys how you doing? Alright?
BRANCACCIO: One recent morning we were out with Mayor Crestiello near Morristown's train station as he inspected the size of the day labor force gathered there.
That day, there were far fewer workers than even a month earlier. Crestiello may be getting his way. This man says immigrants have already started to move out....
ERIC: Oh they moved a lot of them, yeah. Because you don't want to be waiting until the immigration authorities coming to take you.
BRANCACCIO: If people are leaving Morristown, they must be going somewhere.
Isn't there a risk, though, that—Heights Town will get so famous as a—as a tolerant place for new immigrants that loads of new immigrants will, in fact, move here.
MAYOR PATTEN: Look, there's only so much—there's only s—so many homes that people can live, and there's only so many jobs that people can look for. So—there's gonna be a balance But no, we invite people to come to our town.... We have to create that kind of atmosphere where people are a true society. You know, we may never be a utopia. But, we're gonna be pushing for us to be the perfect—community.
BRANCACCIO: If you want to know more about local responses to the immigration issue, you can follow the links over on our website. pbs.org is the place to start.
And next week on now... a journey to Alaska brings together unlikely allies - scientists concerned about global warming, and evangelical Christians who, in a split with many in their faith, believe they have a moral obligation to help preserve God's creation.
CIZIK: Would we have debates over creation versus evolution? Look, do we disagree about that issue? Most assuredly. But do we fight over it? No. Because we have something we can do more important than fight over that. And it's called care for Planet Earth. And that's what God calls us to do.
BRANCACCIO: And that's it for now. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.