Freehold has taken action to address immigration issue

Guest Column


The recent attack on me in this space (“Mayor’s Missteps Over Years Have Hurt Freehold Borough,” Your Turn, News Transcript, Nov. 7, 2007) came from 200 miles away, from a disgruntled former resident who, though he left our hometown many years ago, continues to meddle in its affairs from afar to advance the cause of his larger political agenda. But it was so personal and so wrongheaded that I felt it required a response.

All of Richard Kelsey’s criticisms of me as mayor seem to center around the one issue that has plagued our town more than any other over the last decade: the impact of illegal immigration. We all agree that our town has borne an unfair share of the burden of this national problem. Where we disagree is on what we can do about it.

Illegal immigration is a national problem that the federal government has shamefully ignored, leaving local governments like ours to wrestle with the consequences. We here in Freehold Borough have learned some very hard lessons about what we can and cannot do about it.

We can, and we have:

• enacted strict rental property ordinances.

• increased fines for code violations.

• commenced systematic annual inspections of every rental unit in the borough.

• purchased software to track rental properties and code violations.

We cannot:

• deny an education to children who are here illegally, or whose parents are here illegally.

• arrest someone for loitering or soliciting work.

• arrest people suspected of being illegal immigrants and turn them over for deportation.

All of those actions are against the law. Mr. Kelsey is an attorney and I would think he would be aware of the laws of the United States and of New Jersey. I would like to pose to him a question that anti-immigration activists often ask: What part of “illegal” don’t you understand? His argument is with the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. president, not with the governing body of the borough of Freehold.

Continuing rhetoric like his shows that he is willing to do precisely what the outside pro-immigrant forces have also long done: use our town to advance a larger political agenda. He and his law firm met with the governing body and encouraged the borough to pursue an impractical lawsuit against the federal government that would bankrupt us, but would assure his own personal publicity as a national voice on the immigration issue.

And since he was quick to bring up my job with the Turnpike Authority, for which I am eminently qualified and which I took several years ago after working in the real estate industry for decades, let me remind him of the political patronage jobs he held with the Republican-run county government.

He points out that the shoes I inherited 22 years ago when I became mayor were very big ones, and I agree. My predecessors, Jack McGackin and Roger Kane, were great mayors.

Like everyone else, Mr. Kelsey is certainly entitled to his opinion about how well I’ve filled those shoes. But at least I stepped into them, and have done my best to do the right thing for our hometown, a place I love, have never left, and will always fight for. I didn’t walk away from those shoes, and our town, the way he did. And I never will.

Michael Wilson is the mayor of Freehold Borough.