New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday dismissed a Trump administration lawsuit against his state as nothing more than the president vilifying immigrants for political gain as he seeks reelection.
Murphy spoke the day after Trump officials sued New Jersey in federal court, challenging state-imposed limits on cooperation between state and local law-enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities.
“This lawsuit represents the Trump administration’s latest attempt to vilify our immigrant communities for the sake of election year politics," Murphy said in a statement. "New Jersey is a safer state when all residents feel comfortable coming forward to law enforcement, including crime victims and witnesses.... We will continue to provide a welcoming and inclusive home for our immigrant communities.”
The lawsuit is part of a broad and intense effort by Trump administration officials to stop immigration by undocumented foreign nationals — and to compel cities and localities around the country to help them do it. That tension plays out in big public lawsuits and day-to-day interactions between agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, and local officials who contend that enforcement is strictly a federal duty.
The suit, filed in Newark, “seeks to restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments,” Craig Carpenito, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said in a statement.
In Pennsylvania, many county and municipal governments, including some in the Philadelphia suburbs, use their local manpower to actively assist federal immigration agents, often alerting those authorities to undocumented migrants in their custody. Other jurisdictions turn away from that.
In 2018, Bensalem officials dropped plans to have township police officers partner with ICE agents, amid opposition from scores of people who packed a public meeting and from organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and the Bucks County NAACP.
A year earlier Philadelphia officials fought and won a federal lawsuit after the Trump administration sought to withhold grant money unless the city agreed to help federal authorities identify and arrest undocumented migrants.
Murphy, speaking later Tuesday at Maple Shade High School, where he announced a new statewide mental-health initiative to help students, promised to vigorously defend against the lawsuit, saying the facts favor the state. Communities are safer when all people feel comfortable coming forward to report crimes, he said.
“This is cold-bloodedly about the safety and security of all nine million people who call this great state their home," Murphy said.
In 2018, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued a sweeping directive that included two restrictions the Justice Department wants a federal judge to declare invalid. The “Immigrant Trust Directive” prohibits state officials from sharing information with ICE that relates to immigration status and to release dates of people in their custody. The directive also requires law-enforcement officials to promptly notify a detained individual if ICE has filed an “immigration detainer request” for that person.
Those detainers have been highly controversial. ICE officials say they are valid, legally binding orders. But cities including Philadelphia say the detainers are merely administrative, issued by the agency on its own authority, and that ICE must get a signed judicial warrant if it wants local jurisdictions to hold and turnover detainees.
ACLU-NJ legal director Jeanne LoCicero called the lawsuit “another attempt by the Trump administration to intimidate immigrants” by eliminating “a critical tool for public safety and civil rights.”
The ACLU pledged to help defend the initiative in court.
“Our state has an important responsibility to keep communities safe,” LoCicero said, “and immigrants and their loved ones need to know that they will not be targeted for deportation just for reporting a crime or serving as a witness.“
And Johanna Calle, director of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said the lawsuit is "filled with egregious falsehoods. The directive to New Jersey law enforcement is clear and straightforward. It simply directs local police departments to use their already limited resources for protecting their local jurisdictions.”
ICE “continues to separate families, violates civil rights, and perpetuates violence in our communities,” Calle said. “When local and state law enforcement officers work with ICE, they are put at risk of violating the constitution.”