Immigrants come up winners in settlement

The settlement of a 3-year-old federal lawsuit that was announced by representatives of Freehold Borough’s immigrant population this week appears to be a solid victory for the immigrants.

The Monmouth County Residents for Immigrants Rights, El Comite De Trabaj-adores Por El Progreso Y Bien-estar Social, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Casa Freehold and the United Day Laborers of Freehold filed suit against the borough in December 2003, alleging that day laborers were denied the right to solicit employment in public places in Freehold and were subjected to discriminatory law enforcement and housing code enforcement.

The plaintiffs’ representatives announced the settlement in a press release Monday morning. Municipal officials were expected to discuss the matter at Monday evening’s Borough Council meeting, after the News Transcript’s deadline.

According to a press release issued by the plaintiffs, the agreement provides the following:

+ The borough will not interfere with the lawful use of public property, including the pick-up and discharge of day laborers.

+ The borough will not unlawfully hinder the exercise of free speech, including the solicitation of employment by day laborers.

+ No residential code enforcement inspection shall take place without the resident being advised of his/her rights and informed consent given by the resident. A police officer will not accompany a code officer on the inspection.

+ The borough will install video recorders in its patrol cars.

+ The borough will retain all data pertaining to racial profiling and with interference with the lawful use of public property.

+ The borough agrees to reimburse the fines of those Latinos convicted of loitering and/or officer discretion dating back to Jan. 1, 2002.

+ The borough agrees to reimburse fines for those convicted in housing code inspections, other than violations for overcrowding, where no opportunity was given to correct the code violation.

+ The borough will reimburse fines for convictions made on the basis of anonymous complaints not founded on articulable suspicion.

+ The borough will pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees of $245,000 in addition to its own attorneys’ legal fees.

That final item will be of particular interest to taxpayers as they await information from borough officials on the impact, if any, those legal costs will have on local property taxes.

The settlement was reached between the two sides through mediation pursued under the guidance of former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Daniel O’Hern.

The News Transcript has supported the borough in its efforts to come to grips with the impact that illegal immigration has had on the community.

These efforts have included the pursuit of housing violations, but those efforts should not have been made at the expense of people’s rights, regardless of whether or not those people were in the United States illegally.

The immigrants and their representatives pursued relief through the American justice system. We would hope they can take some measure of satisfaction that the system worked for them.

Perhaps it will inspire the immigrants who are in the United States illegally to follow a path to legal residence.

Freehold Borough, for its part, should continue to enforce housing codes that seek to ensure the safety of all residents. This is the course of action that can best handle the ongoing issue of overcrowded residential housing.

Residents owe municipal officials their support for attempting to deal with a significant problem that, as we have said in the past, the federal government has badly mishandled.