The passions behind the nation’s immigration debate boiled over here Wednesday night before the township committee unanimously approved a measure that would punish people who provide housing or jobs to illegal immigrants.
At an often stormy meeting, about 700 people alternately cheered and heckled those who spoke for and against the controversial measure.
But the Rev. Miguel Rivera, the representative of a national clergy group, was loudly jeered when he said, “Our main concern is the animosity that this type of measure creates.”
Violators would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and other penalties. Employers could lose their local business licenses.
The two sides were split over a local population of illegal aliens, mostly from Brazil—a group believed to number between 1,500 and 3,500 people, Mayor Charles Hilton Jr. said.
The town’s population was about 8,000 before the influx of “nondocumented aliens,” the mayor said.
But critics said the measure would cause ethnic profiling and would penalize the American-born children of immigrants. They also said immigration reform should be accomplished at the federal level.
“The problem is discrimination,” said Ronaldo Empke, a Brazilian who moved here about two years ago. “If you read the history of Riverside, it was built on immigration. Why is it a problem now?”
Many Latinos wore pink ribbons to show solidarity.