Mayors pledge to stand by immigrants despite Trump's threats

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for
on January 25, 2017

NEWARK -- New Jersey's so-called sanctuary cities remained resolute in their commitment to protect undocumented immigrants hours after President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that would slash federal grant money from such places.

"It's not only inappropriate or wrong, it's hostile to many communities like Newark," Mayor Ras Baraka said during a joint press conference with immigrant organizers, Muslim advocacy groups and other elected officials from Maplewood, East Orange and Newark. 

He said it was "criminal" to cut federal dollars and "to punish other Americans, to punish the residents of this community, to punish them in terms of housing, in terms of police, in terms of roads, in terms of infrastructure, to punish them because they refuse to cooperate in sending their neighbors away unlawfully."

Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday that would begin construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, hire an additional 5,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents, another 10,000 immigration officials and withhold federal dollars from sanctuary cities. 

"We are here to stay, we are not leaving, we are here to stand with immigrant communities from all races, all ethnicities and all religious backgrounds," said Johanna Calle, of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, an immigrant advocacy group. "When the federal government or anybody who wants to come after our communities, comes for one of us, they come for all us."

The executive order targeting sanctuary cities does not specify the type of federal grants that would be cut but states jurisdictions that limit communication with federal immigration authorities would be impacted. 

"We will stand against this intrusion of our rights to protect our residents," Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca vowed as immigrants and children gathered behind him holding posters that read: "No to Islamophobia, no to deportations" and "Here to stay." Maplewood passed ordinance saying that local police would not assist federal agents in identifying or arresting immigrants based on legal status.

Legal immigration experts and advocates say sanctuary cities are jurisdictions with policies that limit the extent to which they cooperate with federal immigration agents. That usually means declining to hold undocumented immigrants arrested locally on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under a so-called detainer request.

There are 37 cities, 365 counties and five states with policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. 

Newark only arrests undocumented immigrants who commit crimes and enforces detainer requests only if they are accompanied by a judge's order.

But sanctuary cities has become a loaded term. 

"It doesn't mean that we're harboring people that the federal government is looking for who have committed a crime," Baraka told reporters. "It means that we're not participating with the enforcement agencies to go after immigrants simply because they are undocumented."

And, it remains a misnomer -- federal immigration agents can still conduct raids, deport undocumented immigrants and enforce immigration laws with or without the help of local authorities.

Steven Campoverde, 11, standing near his mom, said he was scared his parents, who are undocumented, would be deported. Campoverde and his younger brother are U.S. citizens and live in Newark. 

"I just want to force Donald Trump to stop putting us away," he said. "My parents are going but we are staying here. My mom and dad feed us every day, they are my family."

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