NJ Spotlight

Gov. Murphy looks on as Attorney General Gurbir Grewal swears in Parthiv Patel, the first Dreamer to become a lawyer in NJ. His wife Sarika Patel is assisting.


New Jersey plans to help an estimated 22,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” by creating a state office to assist them and by joining a multistate lawsuit opposing the Trump administration’s decision to deport them. These young people, who were brought to the United States as children, could be forced to leave in as few as six weeks, if the Republican administration ends the policy currently protecting them.

Gov. Phil Murphy discussed his administration’s tactic during a Trenton event at which he also introduced a man who is New Jersey’s first Dreamer to become a lawyer, a 27-year-old brought to the United States by his parents from India 22 years ago. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal administered the oath of the New Jersey Bar to Parthiv Patel in front of a crowd of family, supporters and the press.

At the same time, Grewal said New Jersey will do everything in its power to support those covered by DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that President Barack Obama put in place in 2012. An important part of that, he said — and numerous immigrant rights groups, state legislators, and others agreed — is joining the lawsuit. The suit was filed by New York and 14 other states and the District of Columbia last September seeking to stop Trump from ending DACA on March 5. It contends that “rescinding DACA will cause harm to hundreds of thousands of the States’ residents, injure State-run colleges and universities, upset the States’ workplaces, damage the States’ economies, hurt State-based companies, and disrupt the States’ statutory and regulatory interests.” New Jersey’s joining the suit is “long overdue,” Murphy said.

Keeping the dream alive

“We are making it clear to our dreamers that the road forward for them exists here in New Jersey,” the governor said, and then echoed one of his campaign slogans, adding. “Starting today, New Jersey will have the backs of our 22,000 Dreamers.”

The Dreamers, an estimated 800,000 people nationwide, receive permission to work and remain in the United States for two years under DACA, and have been able to renew that approval every other year. DACA covers only a specific group of immigrants who were brought to this country by parents or other relatives when they were under age 16 — typically elementary school-aged or younger. They had to have been between ages 5 and 31 as of June 15, 2012, lived continuously in the United States, had no legal status here, were in school or had completed a high school education, and had no criminal convictions. Last September, Trump said he would halt the program unless Congress agreed to a permanent program.

Without that solution, Senate Democrats and a couple of Republicans refused to vote for a temporary spending bill to keep the federal government operating, which led to the three-day shutdown. On Monday, a majority voted for a three-week funding bill with the promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that the Senate would vote on a DACA bill by then. Both of New Jersey’s Democratic Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, opposed that solution, rejecting the Republican promises. The House then approved the same measure, with all of New Jersey’s Republicans voting for the funding bill and all the Democrats except Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th), who voted with the GOP, voting against it.

Murphy did not mince words about that vote ending the shutdown.

‘Dreamers on the doorstep’

“Unfortunately for every Dreamer, justice continues to be denied by the action in Congress on Monday,” he said. “We are no closer to a permanent solution that protects them and allows them to live free from anxiety. This is completely inexcusable. I commend all in our congressional delegation who opposed leaving our Dreamers on the doorstep.”

Because immigration law is federal and enforced by federal agents, the state cannot stop the detention or deportation of DACA recipients or other undocumented immigrants. But there are other actions it can take to assist those who may be targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

On the campaign trail, Murphy had promised to create a state office to help immigrants and on Wednesday, he said that is something that will be established soon. Tentatively to be named the Office of Immigrant Protection and Defense, this agency is still in its formative stages, but will likely at least have a website and a hotline people can call to get information and be directed to local sources of potential assistance. It’s unclear whether the governor needs legislative approval to create such an office.

If he does need approval, he will no doubt get it from the Democratic-controlled Legislature. A number of state Senators and Assembly members sent out announcements in support of the state’s joining the New York suit.

“Although immigration is a federal issue, it is really a local issue here in New Jersey because it affects so many of our friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers,” said Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden). “We as a state must stand up to Trump’s vicious immigration policies and protecting Dreamers from deportation is what this country and New Jersey must do.”

“I am gratified that New Jersey will join the states that are taking legal action in the fight to protect Dreamers,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex). “I stand committed to working with the administration, my colleagues, and our congressional delegation in the effort to renew DACA and provide these young people with the ability to continue living in the only home they know.”

On the road

Sara Mora, a member of Make the Road New Jersey and one of several DACA recipients who attended the event, agreed: “In a week when Congress has failed to protect us, New Jersey is sending a strong message of support … We must continue to make the Garden State fair and welcoming for all. We look forward to working with the governor, the attorney general and our legislators to extend access to drivers’ licenses, health care and state financial aid to Dreamers and their families, and to ensure no state resources are used to assist Trump’s plans for mass deportation.”

Murphy has said in the past that he wanted to provide those benefits to all immigrants in the state and to make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” that would not help ICE agents arrest undocumented residents, and while he did not commit the state to doing that on Wednesday, he did say he is “absolutely committed to doing the things we talked about on the campaign.”

It is important that the state take those and other actions, said Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. For instance, he said the state can provide legal representation for all those who are picked up by ICE, a sort of public defender for those facing deportation, but it is unclear whether New Jersey’s new office of immigrant protection will go that far.

“It is incredibly important that we do whatever we can, so immigrants don’t feel that they have to hide in the shadows, so they don’t have to fear deportation,” Sinha said.

The ACLU helped Patel, who graduated from the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, to become licensed to practice in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Patel’s application for bar admission stalled when the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners told him his immigration status made him ineligible. A 1996 federal statute prohibits states from conferring certain professional licenses on undocumented immigrants unless the state affirmatively opts out of that prohibition. Several states have subsequently granted law licenses to Dreamers who, until DACA, had no path available to apply for legal documentation in the United States.

Patel, who lives in Mount Laurel, appealed with help from the ACLU of Pennsylvania and several cooperating attorneys, and last month he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. The ACLU-NJ represented him in seeking acceptance to the New Jersey bar, and he recently learned that he would be admitted here.

“Parthiv’s long wait for bar admission shows the type of obstacles that Dreamers are up against,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Supervising Attorney Alexander Shalom, who worked on advocacy related to Patel’s case. “A decision that was made for him in kindergarten should have no bearing” on his joining the bar and being able to “give back” to the community. Patel said he was humbled by the honor of being sworn in by the attorney general during a ceremony attended by the governor.

“The process of getting admitted to practice law has been daunting, but today’s ceremony is a reminder of the reason I’ve strived so hard to become a lawyer: to use my training and abilities to uplift others,” he said. Speaking to others in his position, Patel had this advice, “Just keep doing what Dreamers do best, just persevere.”

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