Montvale Mayor Mike Ghassali meets with citizens after posting controversial sanctuary city comments

The mayor of a Bergen County town who came under fire for comments he made about sanctuary cities held a public forum with his residents in an attempt to explain himself.

Montvale Mayor Mike Ghassali, a Syrian immigrant himself, came under fire earlier this month when he posted on Facebook that he would not make Montvale a sanctuary city and did not think it was a mayor's right to defy federal law.

"I wasn't looking for support or against," Ghassali says. "I was looking to make a statement that Montvale won't be a sanctuary city as long as I'm mayor."

A sanctuary city is a city that does not use municipal resources to enforce federal immigration laws. Mayors in several other New Jersey municipalities have issued executive orders declaring their towns a sanctuary city.

Ghassali's comments were met with some scorn and criticism from immigration advocates and Montvale residents.

"I think it came off as a little hostile for people who are refugees, those who aren't legally sanctioned," says Montvale resident Dr. Sairah Qureshi. "It comes off that, 'OK we're not wanted."

The mayor held a public forum Tuesday evening at Borough Hall so that he could speak to residents and hear their concerns. The mayor also made plans to take action.

"It looks like we're going to work on statements that really help to welcome people and make sure people know that they are important to our community," says Councilwoman Elizabeth Gloeggler.

Montvale has a diverse community base. According to another Facebook post made by Ghassali, the 4-square-mile town has 9,500 residents representing 33 different countries. The mayor says 22 different languages are spoken in town.

The meeting was held before the borough's regular monthly council meeting.

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