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Despite Trump threats, N.J. cities to stick with policies on immigrants

As speculation continues over how President-elect Trump may change immigration policy, Gov. Christie said last week that the incoming president has a "much different feeling" about supplying so-called sanctuary cities with federal funding.

As speculation continues over how President-elect Trump may change immigration policy, Gov. Christie said last week that the incoming president has a "much different feeling" about supplying so-called sanctuary cities with federal funding.

"And so everybody better get ready," the governor said in a New Jersey radio interview. "Get your big-boy pants on."

While there is no legal definition of a "sanctuary city," the term can reflect a range of policies, including barring police from questioning people solely to determine immigration status and not complying with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests to keep people in custody beyond their release on local charges.

Trump has said he would cut federal funding to sanctuary cities in his first 100 days in office. In New Jersey, where a number of cities and counties have practices of not fully cooperating with immigration enforcement, some officials aren't sure how to react to the threat.

"If the feds gave us general revenue-sharing dollars, I guess he could target sanctuary cities. But we don't receive general revenue-sharing dollars," said Jack Kelly, the business administrator of Newark, where Mayor Ras Baraka has pledged to continue the city's policy of protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Newark receives federal funding for specific programs, such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, Kelly said.

"Is he going to penalize that group? Doubtful," Kelly said. He also said such funding was distributed to cities by the state.

Others suggested they were unlikely to change their policies. "For us, according to what the court has said, this is settled law," said Dan Keashen, spokesman for Camden County, which honors federal ICE detainer requests only if a warrant or court order also is submitted.

Keashen said the county is "committed to working with our law enforcement partners."

Declining to hold people on detainer requests "is one of the most common and most important types of policies that might be called 'sanctuary policies,' " said Lena Graber, special projects attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco.

Camden County changed its policy after a 2014 federal appeals court ruling that said state or local law enforcement agencies weren't compelled to comply with ICE detainer requests, which ask jails to hold people because of suspected civil-immigration offenses.

Kenney's view

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the underlying case, pushed New Jersey counties to refuse to honor warrantless detainer requests, warning that jails across the country were facing lawsuits.

It's not clear how many counties in the state have anti-detainer policies. Since the implementation of a new immigration-enforcement program last year, "it's our understanding" ICE officials have met with county law enforcement "to encourage them to accept detainers, if they hadn't been," said Ari Rosmarin, public policy director at the ACLU of New Jersey.

Also unclear is how Trump's administration will define sanctuary - or whether actions toward cities and counties would be legal, Graber said. She called it likely that "efforts to significantly cut funding for hundreds of counties and major urban areas will be litigated."

Cities considered to have "sanctuary" policies don't always use the label. Mayor Kenney, for instance, recently referred to Philadelphia as a "Fourth Amendment city."

"We respect and live up to the Fourth Amendment, which means you can't be held against your will without a warrant from the court signed by a judge," Kenney said. He declined to speculate on how the city's refusal to hold undocumented immigrants for nonviolent crimes would affect its funding under Trump.

But detainer policies aren't the only ones that could fall into the "sanctuary" category. Other practices include offering city services without respect to immigration status, declining to spend local resources assisting immigration law enforcement, and guidance against inquiring into immigration status, Graber said.


In New Jersey in 2007, then-Attorney General Anne Milgram issued a directive prohibiting law enforcement officers from asking about the immigration status of victims or witnesses, saying that "public safety suffers if individuals believe that they cannot come forward to report a crime or cooperate with law enforcement."

In Camden - which doesn't describe itself as a "sanctuary city" - county Police Chief Scott Thomson has said that targeting undocumented immigrants would be "completely counterintuitive to what we're trying to do here."

Pointing to business growth along Camden's Federal Street corridor, City Council President Frank Moran said that immigrants, some of whom may be undocumented, had helped resurrect parts of the city.

"The bottom line is there's a lot of progress because of their involvement in our community," Moran said.

Federal money helps put police on the streets in Camden and funds social services through Housing and Urban Development programs, Moran said.

"It would be a detriment to us if he were to pull those grants," Moran said of Trump. "Hopefully he'll have second thoughts as to his approach with immigration."

856-779-3232 @maddiehanna chronicles