By Julieta Soto
San Diego, CA
Immigrants help make Princeton a better place to live. That’s the message second-term Mayor Liz Lempert emphasized recently in a sit-down interview in her office.
Lempert, who began her second four-year term as mayor in January 2017, said she aims to create a more welcoming atmosphere for immigrants in the town of nearly 32,000. She enlists the help of organizations who hold events to reach out to minority groups to inform them about resources and their rights.
That welcoming attitude isn’t only good for the community, but also benefits public safety, Lempert said. Immigrants in Princeton aren’t the source of a lot of crime, but do tend to be victims of crime because assailants assume that undocumented citizens will be too scared to report, she said. To make immigrants feel safer, Lempert said, the town’s police officers are specially trained to build relationships and trust so witnesses feel comfortable talking to law enforcement.
“If you’re the victim of a crime, we don’t care what your immigration status is,” she said.
Lempert said Princeton is technically not a sanctuary city, because there is no jail in town and thus law enforcement does not face a choice about whether to send detainees to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement. Instead, Princeton is a sanctuary city in spirit, and Lempert aims to make it a place that feels safe and welcoming to immigrants, many of whom have been living in the town for generations.
For Lempert, immigration is personal. Her grandparents were Polish immigrants who experienced culture shock when they arrived in America as teenagers, then managed to build a successful life in America.
Growing up in San Francisco also showed Lempert the value of a diverse population. “I grew up in a place that was multicultural and that just seemed normal and you see the advantages of that,” she said.
She has found those same benefits in Princeton, where she said residents speak nearly 50 different languages at home. She loves that her children are able to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. “You can’t learn things like that in a book,” she said. “It’s like there’s something different about having a relationship with somebody, being able to talk to them about their experiences and I think it helps you see where you live in a broader context.”