ATLANTIC CITY — Elected officials from around the region converged on the resort Friday, Sept. 1, to publicly denounce a rumored immigration hub proposed on the grounds of Atlantic City International Airport.
Mayor Marty Small, Sr., US-Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, Sen. Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, along with members of the State Assembly, county commissioners and local mayors, of both the Democratic and Republican parties, collectively cringed at the very idea. About 20 officials joined together for the morning news conference.
“I’m happy to stand in solidarity with my fellow Atlantic County mayors and elected officials,” said Small. “The initial report I read stated that the migrant hub would be in the Great City of Atlantic City, which I am extremely against. Later on, I found out that the hub would be at Atlantic City International Airport, which is located in Egg Harbor Township, just 10 miles from Atlantic City.”
A report from Bloomberg News, citing an anonymous source, sparked the concerns that led to the 11 a.m. news conference at the Atlantic County Police and Firefighters Memorial to “Fallen Heroes” where the ceremony podium was set up. According to Bloomberg, Atlantic City International Airport, ACY, was on a list of 11 federally owned possible locations that could be used to help house 60,000 asylum-seekers that recently arrived in New York City. The Bloomberg report also said that the Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to New York Mayor Eric Adams identifying the potential sites. The Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.
Mayor Small said he has more than a casual familiarity with the problem because many municipalities address their homelessness issue by giving indigents free passage to the resort.
But, Small said, just as he is standing against migrants being shipped to ACY in Egg Harbor Township, he expects elected officials to show similar support to the resort when dealing with its plight.
“The Great City of Atlantic City can relate to outside municipalities practicing ‘Greyhound Therapy’ in which they give people a one-way ticket here that ultimately contributes to the homeless and drug problem we are facing,” Small said. “This is a fine example of crossing party lines for the greater good of our county, but I want us to keep this unity and same energy and stand in support of Atlantic City as people continuously dump their less fortunate in this great city.”
Van Drew said any proposal to house migrants at the airport should be abandoned because it would be a risk to national security because the 177th Fighter Wing New Jersey Air National Guard is housed on the property. The Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center also shares the property with the airport.
“I will relentlessly work on this and fight it because it’s wrong,” Van Drew said.
Van Drew also said that if somehow the Federal government persists, it can’t go unchallenged.
“I would use any means possible to stop it, if I had to get buses and ship them back,” Van Drew said.
Polistina was also vehemently opposed.
“We not only said no to this. We immediately said, ‘hell no’,” Polistina said.
Polistina said the area doesn’t have the capacity, resources, or infrastructure to accommodate migrants. And there isn’t enough law enforcement, health care or education resources available, Polistina continued.
Polistina, however, said he has not seen the Department of Homeland Security letter to New York Mayor Adams and that he has no direct knowledge of any proposed plan.
Kim Horton, president of the Atlantic County Mayors Association and Mayor of Absecon, said the group’s attorneys are in the process of drafting an appropriate response.
“We are a united front,” said Horton. “We need our voices to be heard.”
Egg Harbor Township Mayor Laura Pfrommer said the possibility is scary.
“Our jobs as elected officials, all of us, is to protect our citizens and to speak on their behalf,” said Pfrommer. “We’re a town of 50,000 people and the conversation to bring 60,00 to our town is unacceptable.”
Assemblyman Don Guardian, R-Atlantic, who is the former mayor of Atlantic City, questioned placing such a facility in a Pinelands Regional Growth area.
Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township and Hamilton Township are among the three municipalities most drastically impacted by growth in the region subject to the Pinelands Protection Act.
“Since the 1970s, they’ve told us you can’t touch the Pine Barrens. It’s important for the ecosystem in South Jersey,” said Guardian. “We can’t take down a tree. We can’t build the housing that we need. We can’t put energy utility underneath the Pine Barrens and yet today, we’re going to rip down thousands of trees because New York City doesn’t want to take care of 60,000 people.”
According to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, the Pine Barrens is the ecological term that describes “the unique, beautiful and fascinating ecosystem and natural treasure that covers most of southern New Jersey.”
It encompasses some 1.1 million acres that include trees, wetlands, and various other components of the ecosystem.
The New Jersey Pinelands Commission was established in 1979 just as casino gambling began to take hold in the region. It was designed to control growth in the bedroom communities outside of Atlantic City as the area grew to accommodate the influx of people that came for jobs and opportunities that followed the gaming industry.
The Atlantic County Board of Commissioners will vote on a resolution voicing their collective opposition to any such plan, said Commissioner Ernerst Coursey who co-sponsored it along with Andrew W. Parker III. The Board expects to pass the legislation on Tuesday Sept. 5.
“The Atlantic County Board of Commissioners adamantly opposes any plan to house unvetted migrants from New York City at the Atlantic City International Airport because it will cause an unsustainable stress on Atlantic County resources and it will negatively impact all municipalities throughout the county,” the proposed resolution states.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said this region is not the answer to New York’s immigration problem.
“Our very way of life is being threatened and I don’t want anybody to think we don’t have compassion. We most certainly do,” said Levinson. “But this is a problem we can’t solve. We are not the solution to a problem we did not create.”
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To see the news conference in its entirety click here.