Immigration Takes Center Stage in Freehold Expansion Vote

By Brenda Flanagan

Suzanne Peltzman teaches 28 kids in a class so crowded, four students must take a test in the hallway.

“I can’t give them as much time as I would like to. And I’m only one person, with 28 people who need my help,” she said.

Meanwhile, language classes preempt former computer labs, special ed usurps the library. Freehold Borough’s more than 450 kids over capacity — pushed by a booming Hispanic population that makes immigration status a serious issue. Seventy percent of students here are Hispanic. One reason, some voters say, that in September they shot down a bid to spend $33 million — money to expand school facilities.

“We are educating a lot of illegal people’s children, and I find that to be very unfair,” said Freehold resident Lauren Sampson.

“If they’re illegal — or whatever, they don’t have the documentation — they should still develop a way for those people to be taxed, even though I know it’s hard to do, but they should try because it’s unfair,” said Freehold resident Channing Gott.

“We’ve had to say quite definitively that we don’t subscribe to that. Our responsibility is to educate every resident student,” said Superintendent Rocco Tomazic.

Tomazic says voters also complain about already-high property taxes and school spending priorities — issues he’s tried to address in discussions seeking a compromise with voters — because Freehold will ask them once again to approve that $33 million referendum. Tomazic says many school families can’t vote because of their immigration status.

“They may want to support expanding the schools and doing something better but they can’t get to the polls to vote,” Tomazic said.

“They’re part of the fabric of our society, certainly here in Elizabeth, in the state of New Jersey and the country,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak.

Democratic Sen. Lesniak put the issue squarely at center stage today — announcing a new, online petition that supports President Obama’s executive orders on immigration reform.

“We want to tell our congressmen, ‘Do your job.’ There are too many families here. They are hard-working, law-abiding. They should not have to face deportation,” Lesniak said.

“We have about 525,000 unauthorized new Americans in New Jersey right now who are homeowners contributing to the local economy, and it’s time for this new wave of immigrants and new Americans to have an opportunity and a chance to fulfill the American dream,” said Working Families United for New Jersey Executive Director Ed Correa.

But Sen. Ted Cruz today said Republicans in Congress will seek a way to remove funding for the president’s orders, without shutting down the entire government.

“We should, however, not be funding illegal amnesty. Funding for that occurs in the Department of Homeland Security. So we should attach a rider to the funding for DHS,” Cruz said.

They say all politics is local and next week voters head back to the polls in Freehold. Educators say they hope voters have a changed perspective — one where immigration status perhaps doesn’t enter as much into the equation.