Freehold to stick with plan to close work zone

Mayor answers critics
as debate surrounding
immigrants continues

Staff Writer

Mayor answers critics
as debate surrounding
immigrants continues
Staff Writer

FREEHOLD — Representatives from an area citizens group fighting for immigrants’ rights appeared at a Borough Council meeting for the second time on Dec. 15.

This time Mayor Michael Wilson was in attendance and as they say, "the gloves were off."

Members of the Monmouth County Residents for Immigrants Rights came to protest borough officials’ decision to close a so-called muster zone on Throckmorton Street. The muster zone is due to close on Jan. 1.

The group’s members claim that shutting the area where day laborers are picked up for work will deny them of the right to earn a living and provide for their families. Some people who come to the muster zone to hook up with employers are in the country illegally.

The topic was also the subject of debate at the council’s Dec. 1 meeting. Wilson was not present that night. On Dec. 15, the mayor and council members listened as audience members addressed the issue once again.

Virginia McGlone of Ocean Township, a member of the immigrants rights group, once again asked municipal officials to delay their decision to close the muster zone. She suggested that they create a task force to look into the issue of day laborers. She asked that members of the community come together to talk about the problem.

"We should reach out to every organization that has experience with day laborers," McGlone said.

Carol Gaye of Brick Township, another member of the group, said representatives of the organization had attended a meeting of the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders. She said the freehold­ers expressed an interest in work­ing with borough officials to help find a solution to the day laborers situation.

"You said we should reach out to other jurisdictions and organiza­tions and find ways to work with this issue. Other communities have handled situations like this by uni­fying everyone. We ask that you delay this order and place a mora­torium against the closing of the muster zone," Gaye said.

Gabrielle Jemma of Keansburg said she was a union organizer for more than 30 years.

"Your notice closing the muster zone starts out by talking about the problems like horn-blowing and loitering at the muster zone, but never mentioned the fact that 49 immigrants spent the day cleaning up the muster zone," Jemma said.

She said when people from other parts of the county see what she called a civil rights issue they re­spond to it. Jemma said she be­lieves the basis of the order to close the muster zone was to reduce the Latino population in Freehold.

"This town does not want to have so many Latinos here," she said.

Borough resident Vanessa Minnella said she took offense "to anyone from other towns telling my council and my mayor what to do."

After hearing the pleas of those who want the muster zone to stay open, Wilson told the audience, "OK, I’m going to hit you right be­tween the eyes with this first. Then, later on, I’ll soften up a bit.

"How dare you tell me how to run my town? I’ve been mayor of this town for 18 years. I’ve been elected by the people of this town five times and 51 percent of them think I’ve been doing a good job. I take umbrage at outsiders coming here and telling us how to run Freehold Borough. I’m tired of let­ters calling us racists," he said.

Wilson shared a personal sliver of his life and told those in atten­dance that he adopted his daugh­ter, Ashley, 16, from Colombia.

"But you know how I did it?" he asked. "I did it legally."

Wilson said Freehold Borough has tried to accommodate the im­migrants who have come to the town seeking a place to live and work.

"We stepped up to the plate five years ago. We tried to help our res­idents. It didn’t work. We became a drop-off center," he said of the muster zone. "We’re ready in Freehold Borough, but this should be a regional effort. The muster zone will close on Jan. 1."

Wilson said borough and county officials will meet on Dec. 30 to discuss the matter.

Councilman Kevin Coyne said he has been researching locations for a muster zone outside of the bor­ough. He mentioned Brookdale Community College in the Lincroft section of Middletown as one possible location.

"It’s smack in the middle of the county and there is a large amount of work there. You can get to any town in the county by bus from there. If the county decides that this work force is so important to them, then they should accommo­date these workers," he said. "But every time we say the word ‘regional,’ we hear good-bye."

The council also heard from someone who could see the muster zone issue from another vantage point. Hal Rifkin of Manalapan has owned and operated a family farm on Smithburg Road for years. Rifkin said he visits the muster zone at least once a week to pick up day laborers.

Rifkin said he did not come to protest the closing of the muster zone, but rather to advise the coun­cil of the importance of the muster zone to area farmers and landsca­pers. He cited information he re­ceived from fellow farmers who had picked up day laborers in Toms River at a hiring hall.

"There’s a fee to register and a fee to pick-up," he said. "I would have no problem paying those fees."

Rifkin said he and every other farmer can produce food alone, but they can not harvest it all by themselves.

"It’s too big an undertaking." he said. "In America, 95 percent of the food harvested comes from Hispanic laborers. When all of you sit down to have a meal it would do you well to remember this."