Why these 5 N.J. 'sanctuary' communities could be targeted by Trump

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 29, 2017

During a joint press conference this week, immigrant organizers, Muslim advocacy groups and other elected officials from Maplewood, East Orange and Newark pledged to continue to protect immigrants in light of Donald Trump's executive orders.

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NEWARK -- Two days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order cutting grant funding to "sanctuary jurisdictions" across the United States, questions remain about which municipalities in New Jersey will be affected, and how.

In the order, which Trump signed Wednesday, the president said sanctuary cities "are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary (of Homeland Security)."

Which towns that would impact, however, is a bit unclear, immigration advocates say.

"There is no clear answer as to what a sanctuary city is," said Ari Rosmarin, public policy director for the New Jersey ACLU. "It is not a legal term."

In the order, Trump defines the term as jurisdictions that "willingly refuse to comply" with federal laws governing the communication between local government agencies and national immigration services.

"The Secretary has the authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction," the order reads. 

"The Attorney General shall take appropriate enforcement action against any entity that violates (the law), or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law."

Sanctuary or welcoming

In New Jersey, towns that have identified themselves as "sanctuary," "welcoming," or in other ways to indicate that they are supportive of undocumented aliens, do so in different ways.

Newark, which has embraced its "sanctuary city" moniker, for example, has policies in place instructing local law enforcement agencies not to comply with federal requests to hold undocumented inmates in jail, unless the detainer request is accompanied by a judge's order. But, undocumented immigrants who are arrested on criminal charges are detained and processed as legal residents would be, city officials say.  

On the flip side, politicians in Jersey City have been very vocal about supporting the city's immigrants, and the town has laws on the books reflecting that - but none expressly forbidding local police from cooperating with federal immigration officers.

Mayors in Maplewood and East Orange, which passed sanctuary-type laws after Trump's election, have joined those mayors in denouncing Trump's order.

Other cities have chosen different labels. Princeton has signed on as a "Welcoming America" city, which, according to its website, is a network of more than 100 municipalities across the country that "provides the roadmap and support (communities) need to become more inclusive toward immigrants and all residents."

Sanctuary-like policies

According to immigration advocates, some other towns and counties in New Jersey have sanctuary-like policies in place to avoid potential wrongful imprisonment liabilities, but do not identify themselves as "sanctuary." Burlington, Camden, Middlesex, and Union Counties have varied versions of such policies in place, advocates say.

The extent to which any sanctuary-type law impedes federal immigration law is also up for debate.

Though he declined to comment on any city specifically, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Alvin Phillips said that since the implementation of the Priority Enforcement Program in 2015, the agency has been working more effectively with local officers.

"We continue to make significant strides to build relationships with our local law enforcement agencies," Phillips said, noting that ICE officers focus on detaining "convicted criminals and individuals who pose a threat to public safety and/or national security."

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