One-Third America: Asian and Hispanic Numbers Surge The national increase in the minority population translates into a non-white majority for many communities. The Mayor of Morristown, New Jersey shares his concern that the new residents are destabilizing his city. Another area official disagrees.

One-Third America: Asian and Hispanic Numbers Surge

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And we're going to continue our conversation about America's changing demographics. We're going to go to two political leaders in New Jersey. Donald Cresitello is mayor of Morristown, New Jersey, a city of about 18,000. He joins us from our member station in Newark.

And with him there is Jason Kim, a city council member in Palisades Park, the city of about 17,000. Mr. Kim has been on the city council for three years. Gentlemen, thanks for being here.

Mayor DONALD CRESITELLO (Morristown, New Jersey): Good morning. Thank you.

Mr. JASON KIM (City Council Member, Palisades Park): Good morning. Great to be here.

MARTIN: Great. Well, Councilman Kim, let's start with you. Palisades Park used to be largely Italian-American. Now I understand that it is - is it about half Korean-American? Do I have that right?

Mr. KIM: It's about 40 to 45 percent is Korean-American.

MARTIN: And how did that change come about?

Mr. KIM: About five years ago the influx of the Koreans moved directly into Palisades Park, New Jersey, rather than going through the Flushing or any other places. They found out that New Jersey give out a good security and a good education. So they love to be in the Bergen County, especially in Palisades Park.

MARTIN: How did they hear about Palisades Park?

Mr. KIM: Well, actually, about 15 years ago, the Palisades Park Broad Avenue business was dying off, and there were many, many empty stores and no more business going on. And the Koreans start moving in there, one after another, and then they've found that this is the place to live. And also close to the Manhattan, it's only like 15 minutes away. So it's a locally - it's a very good place to live.

MARTIN: How would say that the existing community or the established community has responded to the newcomers?

Mr. KIM: At the very beginning, first they welcome, and then later on when there are too many Koreans, they begin to have some kind of cultural clash and nowadays they - we are really working along very well.

MARTIN: How did you come to be there?

Mr. KIM: 1992, there was a big L.A. riot in Los Angeles and I was very upset about that. None of the politicians is helping out the Korean community. So I'm beginning to organize something called Korean-American Voters Association and that was the beginning of my political career.

MARTIN: That's great. Terrific.

Mr. KIM: And I worked for the Board of Education for nine years and now I'm working for the city of Palisades Park.

MARTIN: Okay, very interesting. Thank you. Mayor Cresitello, as I understand it, seven years ago Morristown was predominantly white, pretty much Italian-American, right?

Mayor CRESITELLO: Well, Morristown has always been a diverse community. I don't think it was - it's not predominantly white. We've had a large Afro-American populations since the '40s, 25 percent of the town. And now that population is being pushed out and the major majority, the majority minority population today are Latino-Americans.

MARTIN: What would you say, is it about one-third, one-third, one-third - or is it about…

Mayor CRESITELLO: Well, 50 - I would say almost 50 percent of the town now is a minority population. And that minority population is made up of blacks and Afro-Americans and Latinos, and the rest of the town is made up of other ethnic groups - Irish, Italians, and of course Anglos.

MARTIN: Now, I understand, Mayor, that you proposed to let local police investigate immigration violations. Why was that authority important to you?

Mayor CRESITELLO: Well, I've asked the government to let us participate in 287J, which would deputized Morristown's police officers. And the reason for this is, first of all, it's a Homeland Security issue. Morristown manages an airport, for police protection, it's a major hospital, major office buildings, and certainly we need to be working closer with Homeland Security, as was indicated in Fort Dix as a week ago.

These problems can be uncovered at a local level much easier if there is cooperation. Also with the increase of problems with day laborers, with stacking federal criminals violations of federal immigration law, we felt - and I personally felt - that it was better if we would be directly in contact with and participate with ICE in any investigations that were going to take place in Morristown and in fact are going on.

MARTIN: Some people interpret that your request is a sign that there is some tension among the various groups and this is one manifestation of that tension. Do you think that might be true?

Mayor CRESITELLO: I think that is not true, because over 90 percent of the people support this program. The May Day events that took place indicated no more than 150 people showed up on Morristown's green, which is the center of a 500,000-population county and certainly Morristown's population of 20,000. So I think there's very little tension. Some people were simply trying to make something appear to be which didn't exist.

MARTIN: And you're saying the May Day - there are May Day demonstrations to what? To protest this policy that…

Mayor CRESITELLO: Well, it was to protest this policy as well as support what really amounts to illegal immigration. We have always supported immigration. My family came to Morristown in 1905 - Italian immigrants - and you know, we've been here since then. And other groups have come in, but those groups all came in through the legal process.

And I think the objection is a violation of law, and a lot of people just resent the fact that there's nothing done about it. And certainly the Senate is trying to deal with it, but clearly that's an amnesty program. But I think if they tweak it, you know, it's a step in the right direction. We need to deal with the issue and we need to deal with the issue now.

MARTIN: So the issue isn't ethnic tension per se, the issue is a concern about illegal immigration. But can I ask you to answer the first question, which is, how do you think the various ethnic groups are relating to each other?

Mayor CRESITELLO: Well, there certainly was tension between the Afro-American community and the Latino community. The same as was indicated before between the Korean community. I mean this is normal. When the Italians first came to Morristown and my father wanted to rent a house, people wouldn't rent to him because he was Italian.

So these are normal tensions that happen in all areas of the country, but I think, you know, through communication and through bringing people together those tensions are relieved. Certainly we have a wonderful Colombian community that came into the country legally. They've established businesses. They've purchased homes and fixed their homes just like other groups before them and there's no tension. I think the resentment is that illegal groups simply congregate on the streets. There were as many as 200 blocking the train station, blocking stores, and local residents objected to that.

MARTIN: Mr. Mayor, can I ask you stay with - Mr. Mayor and Councilman Kim, can I ask you to stay with us for another couple of minutes so we can continue our conversation?

Mayor CRESITELLO: I would be pleased to do that.

Mr. KIM: Sure.

MARTIN: Okay. I'm speaking with Mayor Don Cresitello of Morristown, New Jersey, and Jason Kim, a city council member in Palisades Park, New Jersey. They're going to be with us for a couple of more minutes. And we're going to pause here for just a moment.

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MARTIN: Just ahead: Jerry Falwell, he was a country preacher who became a power broker.

Dr. HERSHAEL YORK (Christian Preaching, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): I don't think I ever heard him preach and I said, wow, what a great sermon. But I frequently heard him preach or speak and said, wow, what a leader.

MARTIN: Faith leaders on the influence of Jerry Falwell. That's coming up later on TELL ME MORE.

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MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. The conversation continues TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

And I'm speaking with Mayor Don Cresitello of Morristown, New Jersey, and Jason Kim, a city council member in Palisades Park, New Jersey, about new numbers that showed that the number of minority citizens has increased to 100 million in the United States. That's about a third of the population. And they're talking about the impact of these changes in their communities.

Jason Kim, are people in Palisades Park also concerned about illegal immigration?

Mr. KIM: Yes, we do. Illegal immigration is not a good thing to perceive as any people who came here legally. So I believe the - like all the Koreans as well as any other groups will probably concern about the illegal, you know, immigrants.

MARTIN: How is that concern playing itself out in Palisades Park? Mayor Cresitello talked about the fact that there was an airport in Morristown. So there's concern about that, there's concern about day laborers congregating. Are any of those - do you have any of those concerns in Palisades Park, and how are you intentionally addressed that?

Mr. KIM: Actually, we are not. We do not have a major problem for the illegal alien issues. We already have some other issues like any normal town that we have - tax issues, education issues.

MARTIN: When I talked to Liz Llorente from The Bergen Record, she said that sometimes there are tensions but - and you actually alluded to this earlier -that sometimes initially people are welcoming. They are happy, in fact, that some of these new immigrants were revitalizing the business district in Palisades Park, but then they started to feel, you know, kind of irritated that perhaps that the things were changing in ways that they weren't always happy with or comfortable with. Have you had to deal with some of those issues on the city council, and how have those issues come up?

Mr. KIM: Well, those kinds of cultural questions happened before I was involved with the Palisades Park politics. But nowadays it's much better, but there is always ignorance of understanding each other. I mean, when people do not understand the other people they thought it will harm them. Actually…

MARTIN: Well, give an example. Give an example.

Mr. KIM: Well, for example, there's a restaurant, Korean restaurant, who wants to open for longer hours and the town doesn't want to do that, so there was a fine. The town has the authority to limit their hours, but the problem was there was a difference of some American restaurants can open 24 hours and Korean restaurant cannot open for 20 hours - 24 hours. So Korean merchants was upset about that, let's be fair.

MARTIN: How did you resolve it?

Mr. KIM: The Koreans and the - I'm sure most of other immigrants tried to - they are coming here to get the American dreams, to achieve the American dreams, to economically and socially and culturally benefit the entire community, but some people don't see that way.

MARTIN: Okay. Mayor Cresitello, we're down to our last minute. Do you feel that as a leader in the community that it's part of your job to help these groups get along better, or do you feel that it kind of happens naturally in the neighborhoods and the - neighbor to neighbor, that kind of thing?

Mayor CRESITELLO: You know, I think elected officials are needed to help, you know, be a catalyst to bring groups together. And it's important for us to participate, as we have in the past. But ultimately, the groups will solve the problems themselves when they find out that there's nothing to fear. But I think it's simply the word illegal that irritates people. It's not the diversity. We welcome diversity in Morristown. We've always had diversity in Morristown.

You know, certainly it's the military capital of the American Revolution so, you know, all of us are immigrants to this country at one time or another. Not all of us, but our parents, our grandparents. So I think these things tend to work themselves out. But we do resent the fact that the borders are wide open that people think it's a global nation, yet Americans can't go into any other country because you have borders, but anyone can come here and violate the laws.

MARTIN: All right. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. That was Mayor Don Cresitello of Morristown, New Jersey. We are also joined by Jason Kim, a city council member in Palisades Park, New Jersey. They joined us from NPR member station WBGO in Newark. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

Mayor CRESITELLO: Thank you for the opportunity.

Mr. KIM: Thank you very much.

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