Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage tweeted Friday that his city could not accept Afghan refugees due to a lack of resources after Tropical Storm Ida displaced hundreds of the city’s residents.
Bollwage, a Democrat, said he received a call from the White House about a nonprofit seeking to settle Afghan refugees in Elizabeth after the Taliban regained control of the country. The mayor tweeted that he had contacted the nonprofit, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and asked them to find nearby towns to place them.
“We currently have around 400 displaced residents and although everyone currently has housing, it has been difficult to maintain short-term housing,” Bollwage tweeted. “I listed all the challenges to the IRC and asked them to reconsider the settlement of the refugees and find neighboring communities to place them in those that have not been as badly affected as our city. canceled rooms and imposed time limits on stays. ”
“The demand for critical resources and the dumping costs associated with the storm remain and while we would love to accommodate them, this is not the best choice now. “
It is not known how many refugees the IRC planned to place in Elizabeth. The mayor and IRC did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
Some 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan had arrived in the United States last week, and about 49,000 of them remain at eight military bases awaiting relocation, according to the New York Times, which cited internal federal documents as he says he got it.
As many as 600 Elizabeth residents were displaced after Tropical Storm Ida hit New Jersey and flooded an affordable housing complex along the Elizabeth River. Union County, which includes Elizabeth, was ultimately approved for FEMA financial assistance to help residents recover.
The Afghan refugees were housed at the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base, which will serve as a temporary location for up to 9,500 people evacuated from Afghanistan for a year. Gov. Phil Murphy created a task force to help them settle in New Jersey, but spokespersons for the governor – a Democrat – did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday when he was told. asked about Bollwage.
The US State Department was giving those who received special immigrant visas the choice of being resettled to more than a dozen places in the Garden State, including Elizabeth, Highland Park, and possibly others. locations in North Jersey.
A State Department spokeswoman said NJ Advance Media relocation agencies consider placements based on where evacuees have family in the United States and other factors. Local resettlement agencies provide assistance with housing, school enrollment, food, clothing and furniture for the first 30-90 days in their new communities.
“This effort is of the utmost importance to the US government and we are devoting significant resources to supporting the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program and referrals to the US program for admitting refugees and other Afghans at risk.” , the State Department spokeswoman said. “We are allocating new funds to support initial resettlement support for those arriving from Afghanistan who are not admitted as refugees. “
It is not known whether Bollwage really has a say in where the refugees are placed. Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, refused to help resettle Syrian refugees in 2016, but the federal government still settled around 275 of them, mostly in Jersey City and Elizabeth, with help from ‘non-profit organizations.
NJ Advance Media reached out to the nine members of Elizabeth City Council on Saturday to ask if they support the mayor’s statement made on Twitter. Only one – 5th Ward Councilman William Gallman, Jr. – responded and said he supported the mayor’s position.
Kason Little, an activist for Elizabeth, said the mayor’s stance on refugees was not in line with the sentiments of residents, many of whom are Hispanics or immigrants from various nations. He said it was “disgusting” that Bollwage used the storm as a reason not to accept refugees and called the mayor “racist as hell”.
“He’s hiding under the Democrat title but he’s Republican by nature,” Little said. “These are his values. It’s so inhuman and disgusting how he treats people from different countries.
Little noted that in 2017, Bollwage refused to give Elizabeth Sanctuary City status. Immigrant groups at the time spoke out against the mayor’s decision not to give the designation, which would mean police would not cooperate with immigration and customs officials seeking to detain people suspected of ‘be undocumented. The mayors of cities like Newark and Jersey City gave the designation.
When asked for a response to Little’s comments, Kelly Martins, spokesperson for Elizabeth, only forwarded to NJ Advance Media a letter written by Bollwage to the IRC that reflected what he had written. on Twitter. The governor received a copy of the letter.
Bollwage has been Mayor of Elizabeth for almost 30 years. He was elected mayor in 1992 and ran unopposed in last year’s local general elections, winning 26,495 votes in a town of about 128,000. He had two Democratic primary challengers in July 2020.
Local journalism needs your support. Subscribe to nj.com/supporter.
Rebecca Panico can be reached at [email protected].