by Maura McDermott
Saturday July 28, 2007, 6:49 AM
Hundreds of people are expected in Morristown today for separate rallies and a prayer vigil on immigration. The rallies, both in support and opposed to immigrants' rights, are scheduled for noon to 2 p.m.
A rally protesting illegal immigration, organized by the Mount Olive-based ProAmerica Society, will take place outside Town Hall on South Street, while a silent counter-protest will be held across the street.
The prayer vigil, in support of immigrants' rights, will be held in the parking lot of St. Margaret's Church on Sussex Avenue, about a mile from Town Hall. The vigil is sponsored by Wind of the Spirit, a local immigrants' resource center, and by the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Friends Service Committee.
More than 1,000 people are expected for the ProAmerica rally, in part because of a high-profile court ruling this week as well as a radio advertising campaign.
On Thursday, a judge struck down a law in Hazleton, Pa., that would have penalized landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and employers who hire them, finding the measure unconstitutional. As many as 200 people are expected to travel from the Hazleton area, in part to express their displeasure with the ruling, said Daniel Smeriglio, a Hazleton resident who plans to speak at the ProAmerica rally.
Mayor Donald Cresitello said he will speak at the ProAmerica rally as long as the event does not take on a bigoted tone.
"If it does go in a direction I don't like, I might speak out against that and make it clear that's not what Morristown is about," he said earlier this week. "I'm not against immigration. I'm just against illegal immigration."
Members of a white supremacist group called Stormfront plan to attend the Morristown rally as well, according to that group's Web site.
Robb Pearson, who founded the ProAmerica Society, said he vehemently rejects Stormfront's message. About five Stormfront members attended a rally in Hazleton last month, and they carried signs but did not cause problems, Smeriglio said.
"This is not a message of hate that's being put out, it's a message of, if anything, respecting the United States of America," Smeriglio said this week. "Regardless of race, color, religion, political affiliation, we are all American citizens."
Additional police officers will be on duty to make sure today's events remain peaceful and orderly, Cresitello said.