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Dems Want State to Pick Up Tab if NJ’s Sanctuary Cities Lose Funds Under Trump

Governor says officials from communities that lose federal funding will have to explain revenue loss to local residents

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President Donald Trump has threatened in an executive order to strip federal aid from so-called sanctuary cities that harbor undocumented immigrants, meaning some communities in New Jersey could stand to lose millions of dollars.

But Democratic legislative leaders, harking back to New Jersey’s historic role in welcoming immigrants to the United States, want to make sure state funds are available to replace any resources that would be lost if the new president follows through on his threat against sanctuary cities.

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Legislation up for consideration today in the state Senate would create a new grant program for both counties and municipalities in New Jersey to provide a dollar-for-dollar match of any aid to a “sanctuary jurisdiction” that’s stripped of funds by the federal government. It’s unclear exactly how much funding could be at stake, but it’s estimated to be in the millions of dollars. The new program would be administered by the state Department of Community Affairs, and the funds would be appropriated directly from the general state budget, according to the bill.

Legislation likely would receive swift Christie veto

While Gov. Chris Christie has shared a similar view as Trump’s on sanctuary cities, suggesting the new bill would receive his swift veto if it eventually makes it out of the Legislature, the issue is also likely to be tied up for some time in court as groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have already threatened to sue the Trump administration if it tries to enforce the executive order. That means it may not be Christie — a second-term Republican who will leave office early next year — but the state’s next governor who ultimately will decide whether the state budget will serve as a backstop for New Jersey’s sanctuary governments.

A sanctuary city or county is generally described as a place that adopts policies or laws directing local law enforcement not to question people solely about their immigration status, or not to honor U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests to hold undocumented immigrants in custody beyond their release dates. Some places will only hold immigrants who have a history of violent felonies or are charged with violent crimes, and only honor a detainer request accompanied by a judge’s order.

Some of New Jersey’s largest cities — including Camden, Jersey City and Newark — are regarded as sanctuary jurisdictions, but so are North Bergen, Princeton, Trenton, Union City, West New York, and Middlesex and Union counties.

New Jersey has one of the largest foreign-born populations among U.S. states, ranking behind only California and New York, and a report released last year by the bipartisan pro-immigration reform group New American Economy suggested the state stands to lose money under hard-line federal policies. The report estimated New Jersey’s undocumented immigrant population — just under 500,000 residents — contributed $432 million in state and local taxes in 2014, including through sales and property taxes. They paid another $732 million in federal taxes, the report found.

Not yet clear what federal aid would be stripped

The executive order signed by Trump in late January would allow the federal government to penalize “sanctuary jurisdictions” by withholding federal grants if they fail to cooperate with requests from federal immigration officials. It’s not clear whether all federal aid would be stripped or just funding related specifically to law-enforcement grant programs.

Still, the mayors of Jersey City and Newark and officials in several other places have spoken out or taken action in recent weeks to condemn Trump’s executive order.

But Christie has also weighed in on the issue, saying during an interview on NJ 101.5 FM radio last month that he agreed with Trump’s strong position. He also warned mayors in communities that could lose federal funding that they will have to explain that revenue loss to local residents who he said would be forced to pick up the slack.

“I think that elected officials can’t be allowed to pick and choose the laws they decide to comply with,” said Christie, who also took a hard line while running unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination last year. “Do not doubt this guy’s resolve,” Christie said of Trump. “When he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”

Under the legislation introduced by state Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson) that’s up for consideration today, the state that would step in to reimburse any community that loses federal funding if Trump does follow through on his executive order.

‘Ellis Island is here. How can we not speak up?’

Stack, who is also the mayor of Union City, spoke out forcefully against Trump’s immigration policies on the Senate floor last week as resolutions were adopted that officially voiced the Senate’s opposition to the new president’s approach on immigration.

“It's disgraceful,” Stack said. “These are people just like you and I, everybody in this chamber. They bleed the same color as we do.”

“It's sad that it's come to this in this country,” he said.

Both Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson) said during a legislative leaders’ forum that was organized last week by the New Jersey State League of Municipalities that they support Stack’s proposal.

“I am an immigrant. What you’re hearing is my second language,” said Prieto, who was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1971. “That hits home for me so it’s very important to stand up for these individuals,” Prieto said.

Sweeney, who is fast-tracking the bill in the Senate, said it’s particularly important for New Jersey, as the home state of Ellis Island, the former immigration processing station that operated from 1892 to 1954, to take a firm stance. “I can tell you right now, I strongly support Sen. Stack’s bill,” Sweeney said.

“We’re going to speak up in the Legislature and we are going to let our feelings be known to the nation,” Sweeney added. “Again, Ellis Island is here. How can we not speak up?”

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