This is the second story in an occasional series assessing and exploring where the leading candidates stand on the most important issues facing New Jersey. Follow this link to read all the articles in this series.
Immigration has been one of the most contentious issues in this year’s gubernatorial election, with the major party candidates differing sharply over “dreamers,” sanctuary cities, and other problems facing the state’s undocumented communities.
Democrat Phil Murphy has pledged to make New Jersey a sanctuary state if President Donald Trump continues to ratchet up enforcement efforts, while Republican Kim Guadagno accuses the Democrat of placing the state’s residents in danger.
[img-narrow:/assets/17/1023/0027]Murphy has been clear about his position for much of the campaign. His website proclaims he would “oppose any efforts to use state and local police to assist in mass deportations,” and he would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and college aid. He also promises to increase access to professional licenses and to address workplace concerns like the minimum wage, sick leave, and wage theft, which many advocates say will aid Latino communities.
While Guadagno has not shied away from immigration issues, the lieutenant governor had not made them a campaign centerpiece until October 12, when she released a television ad that the Star-Ledger editorial board described as reminiscent of the 1988 Bush presidential campaign’s Willie Horton ad. The Latino Action Network condemned the ad and others have questioned whether it crosses the line into “baseless attacks” and “fear-mongering.”
The ad raises an important question: What are Guadagno’s positions on immigration and immigrant-related issues? She does not list immigration under issues on her website, and her campaign did not respond to NJ Spotlight questions about her positions on several immigration-related issues, including whether undocumented New Jerseyans should be able to receive state aid for college or driver’s licenses, or whether state resources might be used to step up enforcement of immigration laws.
Murphy also failed to offer direct answers and neither candidate offered their positions on eight immigration-related bills currently before the state Legislature, despite requests from NJ Spotlight.
Guadagno on Monday in West Long Branch, however, announced her support for a state law that would prevent municipalities from becoming sanctuary jurisdictions, and that would allow the governor to withhold state funding to towns that “harbor violent criminals.” She called Murphy “misguided,” and said he would make the state less safe.
“If elected governor, I will pass a law to ban sanctuary cities so politicians can’t prevent law enforcement from turning violent and dangerous criminals over to federal immigration officials for deportation,” she said.
Guadagno has made several public statements on immigration issues, but has kept her focus on federal actions until recently.
She said she opposed the specifics of the original Trump travel ban, which would have prevented people from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States, but said she was for “stepping up vetting of immigration from certain countries with a history of terrorist ties to ensure America’s safety.”
She also was critical of Trump’s executive order overturning DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a program that granted about 22,000 undocumented immigrants in New Jersey who came to the United States as children temporary protection against deportation and allowed them to work legally in the state. But she has not offered any specific policy response.
Let Congress fix it
In response to a question from Mariela Salgado at the October 10 gubernatorial debate, she repeated her call to have “Congress fix the problem.”
“It is a congressional issue,” she said. “As governor, I would use the bully pulpit to encourage our Congress leaders, most of whom are Democrats in New Jersey anyway, to fix the problem once and for all so we don’t have this constant uncertainty as we go forward.”
She then promised to make the state more affordable, which would help so-called dreamers stay in New Jersey. (Dreamers are those who came to the country illegally as children.)
“We have to make it affordable for them to live here, and the way to make that happen, quite frankly, is to lower taxes,” she said. “My opponent has said he’d raise taxes on the most taxed people in the country and that will hurt every single one of those 20,000 individuals, as well as their families.”
Ultimately, she said, she would “follow the law” and not “make it more dangerous for law enforcement officers and for people to live in the state of New Jersey by declaring New Jersey a sanctuary state.”
Guadagno says Murphy’s approach to immigration, especially his support for sanctuary-state status for New Jersey, would imperil residents. Both during the debate and in her ad, Guadagno cited individual crimes as examples of the kinds of dangers residents could face.
Guadagno on the defense
She defended the ad on New Jersey 101.5 saying it was based on a comment made on Facebook Live by Murphy during the primaries, which showed “in an unscripted moment what he really thinks.”
“(Murphy) really does believe that he will err on the side of caution and protect those who are in this country illegally who are committing violent crimes,” she told Bill Spadea.
The ad, the Asbury Park Press said, was evidence that Guadagno “has tacked hard to the right” on immigration, while others described it as taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook.
Christie speaks out
Gov. Chris Christie defended Guadagno after she was criticized by former Vice President Joe Biden during a campaign stop. Biden had compared the Guadagno ad to the infamous Willie Horton spot used by George H.W. Bush during the 1988 campaign to criticize his opponent, Michael Dukakis for the Democrat’s support while Massachusetts governor of a controversial prison furlough program. Horton raped a woman when he was out on furlough.
Christie dismissed Biden’s comments and called the ad “fair game.”
“This was Ambassador Murphy who brought up this issue, not the lieutenant governor,” philly.com reported. “He created this issue by grandstanding with his clichés. Now he has to pay for it by answering these questions.”
Murphy, for his part, called the crimes “heinous” during the debate and again in comments following the release of the ad. He accused Guadagno of “politicizing” the crimes and linked her to Trump.
“What you’re doing is what Donald Trump does, he and Chris Christie,” he said during the debate. “You pit ‘us’ against ‘them.’ You cast a pall over entire communities of people.”
A hard line
Murphy’s campaign has attempted to draw a hard line separating the Democratic candidate from both President Trump and Christie on the issue. He has publicly and repeatedly criticized Trump’s immigration priorities and actions and has promised to have the state join 16 others in a lawsuit to prevent DACA’s dismantling.
He’s promised to prevent federal immigration authorities from using biographical data collected by the state as part of the DACA process to deport New Jersey residents and would “create a state ‘office of immigrant protection’ that would serve as a one-stop shop where immigrants could get legal services and questions answered.”
He has said the Trump restrictions on immigration from several Muslim countries contained in a January executive order were not reflective of New Jersey’s or the nation’s values, and that the Christie administration’s silence “betrays indifference to, or worse, acceptance” of the order.
Murphy did not respond to the specific questions posed by NJ Spotlight to expand on the positions listed on his website, including how he might implement a program of state tuition aid or driver’s privilege cards for immigrants. However, Derek Roseman, his communication director, provided a statement via email saying the candidate “has made it clear that he wants to create a New Jersey where every resident has the opportunity to succeed and contribute to our state culturally, socially, and economically.”
“He has spoken many times about the need to protect our immigrant communities, including ensuring that our Dreamers are protected and that immigrant communities will not fear law enforcement,” he said.
Roseman said Murphy plans to work with legislators “to enact a comprehensive program to ensure all our communities can prosper” and would “appoint an attorney general who will stand up to the misguided and mean-spirited Trump administration policies on immigration and DACA.”
Eight immigration-related bills before state Legislature
A-575 would require the attorney general to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to empower corrections officers to investigate the immigration status of inmates.
A-1214 would require the Department of Human Services to educate the public about privacy laws that prevent disclosure of healthcare information to immigration authorities.
A-1707 would prohibit municipalities from becoming sanctuary cities and make it an ethics violation for local or state employees to refuse to comply with federal immigration requests.
A-2604 would require the state Motor Vehicle Commission to issue one-year, renewable, driving-privilege cards to state residents who cannot prove they have legal immigration status.
A-4590 would reimburse local governments that lose federal funding over their designation as a sanctuary city.
A-4611 would place strict limits on cooperation with federal immigration authorities by police, court employees, healthcare providers, shelters, public schools, and other public employees and would prohibit the use of local, county, or state money, manpower, facilities, or property for immigration enforcement purposes.
A-4675 would ban county and municipal law enforcement agencies from entering into memoranda of agreement with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to allow local officers to act as immigration enforcement agents.
A-4742 would prohibit state, county, or municipal law enforcement agencies and state or county correctional facilities from cooperating with federal detainee requests unless the person sought has been convicted of a serious crime or a criminal warrant is presented.