The Trump administration's emphasis this week on quashing sanctuary cities' efforts to shelter immigrants without legal permission ricocheted through the New Jersey governor's race.
Democrats vowed to push back against President Donald Trump, setting up a potential showdown over federal funding that the GOP president says is on the line. Republicans, meanwhile, criticize sanctuary cities and question their purpose.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who is term-limited, has said there's "no chance'' he'll back Democratic lawmakers' efforts to require the state to pick up the tab if federal dollars to sanctuary cities are cut.
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How to deal with the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally was a major issue in the presidential campaign, with Trump taking a hard line by calling for deportations and the construction of a wall along the southern border. The issue was prominently featured this week when Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated administration policy to strip funding for sanctuary communities.
There are an estimated 200 sanctuary cities and counties nationwide. They're generally defined as communities that refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally. In New Jersey, a handful of cities and counties have identified themselves as sanctuary communities, including Jersey City and Newark along with Union County. The issue divides the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, with Democrats supporting sanctuary cities and Republicans ranging from skeptical to opposed to them.
Democrats who control the Legislature put forward a bill requiring the state to reimburse sanctuary cities whose funds are cut by the Trump administration, but the measure has not come for a vote in either chamber yet.
CANDIDATE POSITIONS AND PROMISES
Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy has said he would not enforce Trump administration policies that he views as unconstitutional or "un-American.'' He says he opposes "mass deportations'' and has called for allowing immigrants living here illegally to obtain driver's licenses as well as permitting those in the state under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to receive in-state tuition, and easing restrictions to obtain professional licenses.
Democrat Jim Johnson, a former Clinton administration Treasury official, said this week he would direct the state attorney general to "protect sanctuary cities by any legal means necessary.'' He has also proposed created an immigration council aimed at advocating for the state's immigrant families.
Democratic state Sen. Ray Lesniak favors establishing a "path to citizenship'' for those here illegally, although that decision falls to the federal government. He also favors allowing immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission to obtain driver's licenses and receive in-state college tuition. He has said New Jersey should be sanctuary state.
Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski has similarly called for legislation to make New Jersey a sanctuary state. He says the legislation would give state law enforcement officers the ability to refuse cooperation with federal officials on immigration issues.
Republican front-runner Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno recently called cities' efforts to designate themselves as sanctuaries "a political stunt.'' She told The Record recently that the status gives immigrants a "false sense'' of security. As Monmouth County sheriff, she entered into a federal partnership that allowed local authorities to initiate deportation proceedings against immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally and committing serious crimes.
GOP Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli opposes the Democratic lawmakers' legislation to reimburse state sanctuary cities, calling it "reckless and irresponsible.''
Nutley Commissioner and a former Fox News contributor Steve Rogers says he supports Trump's policies. He said he would "take it one step further'' and call for elected officials who break the law on immigration issues to be prosecuted.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Experts say the president cannot force sanctuary cities to cooperate with the federal government. Former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano, writing in a December op-ed in the Washington Examiner, argued that Trump could use a "carrot'' to encourage cooperation, but that the president cannot constitutionally use a "stick'' to force it.
The carrot-and-stick model is one that could work in Trump's favor. Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison said while New Jersey mayors and local officials might favor sheltering those here illegally, the decision gets much more complicated if federal money is at stake. "It gives them pause,'' she said.
It's unclear how much funding may be in jeopardy.
A Standard & Poor's analysis out this week of 10 sanctuary cities, including New York, Detroit and Seattle, showed that Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice discretionary grants make up less than 1 percent of their total government funds revenue.