New Jersey: Immigration a challenge to Mercer County. Forum cites education needs--more comprehensive English language instruction
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Wed Jun 11 14:16:16 UTC 2008
Immigration a challenge to Mercer
Forum cites education needs
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
BY CARMEN CUSIDO
TRENTON -- Using yesterday's stifling heat as a metaphor, Princeton
University sociology and public affairs professor Paul Starr said
immigration is a "hot issue" to introduce a report funded by his
Lawrence-based Sandra Starr Foundation that examines the surge of
immigration in Mercer County. The New Jersey Policy Perspective report
-- discussed by a panel yesterday -- concludes that there is a need
for more comprehensive English language instruction, such as ESL or
bilingual classes in Mercer schools, whose students speak almost 90
The study said nearly 30 percent of the foreign-born residents of
Mercer are in the country illegally. It said they are far less likely
to have access to health care and are often afraid to seek help from
police when they are victimized by criminals. But the report also
indicates most municipalities within the county have welcoming
attitudes toward immigrants, and that immigrants make a valuable
contribution to the local economy.
"This was a fact-finding report; it was meant to provide information
to policy-makers at the local, county and state levels," said Starr.
Following an overview of the report yesterday, a panel of four
immigration experts and advocates discussed offering in-state tuition
for undocumented students, access to health care for undocumented
immigrants and language education, as 55 people in the audience at
Thomas Edison State College listened.
The report cites Hightstown, Trenton and Princeton Township as areas
within Mercer that have been "especially welcoming" to undocumented
and legal immigrants because of outreach programs and cooperation from
local authorities. Even so, attitudes toward undocumented residents
are becoming increasingly harsh, panelists said.
"What I have seen since 1996, in part exacerbated post-September 11,
is the rapid criminalization of immigrants," said panelist Patricia
Fernandez-Kelly, a sociology professor at Princeton University.
Emphasizing education and the need for immigrant children to pay
in-state tuition fees, Fernandez-Kelly said foreign-born children who
grow up in the United States "cannot get a good education or find jobs
because they are -- as (TV and radio commentator) Lou Dobbs
sensitively puts it -- illegal."
Princeton immigration lawyer Ryan Stark Lilienthal said there are
conflicting views about immigration -- with some viewing the increase
of undocumented immigrants as a "crisis" and others viewing them as
essential to the economy.
"I hope that we think more about what we want for our communities and
less on the rhetoric about an immigrant's status in the United
States," he said.
"The federal government's failure to enact comprehensive legislation
is placing an enormous burden on states and municipalities. In absence
of that, we have ad hoc legislating that is done town by town, county
by county, state by state. It opens the door for those who view
immigrants as criminals, for those who miss the big picture about
where our community should be heading, but are so focused about who's
breaking the rules," Lilienthal said.
Among the report's findings, almost 20 percent of county residents
were born outside the United States, and as many as 29 percent of the
county's 71,000 immigrants are estimated to live in the country
New Jersey Policy Perspective's report paints a picture of a wider
scope of nationalities, occupations and income levels than the
stereotypes that often abound, said Jon Shure, executive director of
the Trenton-based think tank.
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