What is a Sanctuary City? Letter from a Mayor in New Jersey

By Jim Cahill, Mayor, City of New Brunswick, New Jersey

In light of national changes to immigration policies and procedures, there has been discussion in our community and throughout New Jersey about “Sanctuary Cities,” and whether New Brunswick is one.

A recent article in the Targum unfortunately may have resulted in an inaccurate portrayal of the City of New Brunswick’s policies and stances on issues involving immigration.

In the wake of new policies and procedures implemented and threatened by the current federal administration, an understandable heightened sensitivity to any real or intimated anti-immigrant policy has arisen.

The only specific statement I provided to the Targum is the following:

“For more than 25 years, it has been the practice of this administration to welcome and accept all residents of the City of New Brunswick as they are.  We have no intention to put an end to that practice, regardless of any change in the political climate.”

To be clear, New Brunswick has not described itself using the label “sanctuary city” as the term has no defined meaning, including in the recent executive order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”.

Being a sanctuary city is largely understood to refer to a municipality’s opposition to cooperation with federal investigation of residents based on their immigration status.

More often than not, the term has become a simple, shorthanded way of referring to a municipality that has initiated policies that protect undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws and does not use municipal funds or resources to enforce national immigration laws.

New Brunswick Police Department (Image Credit: New Brunswick)
New Brunswick Police Department (Image Credit: New Brunswick)

These are policies that have been adhered to throughout the years of my administration.

However, I think it more appropriate that New Brunswick be defined by the history of our actions rather than the ambiguities of a single article and the confusion created by the Trump administration’s recent executive orders.

Our police department will continue to work to protect and serve all residents regardless of immigration status.

The New Brunswick Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws and does not participate in raids or investigations involving immigration status.

Our police have worked hard to build trust with the immigrant community, essential in creating a safe community, and will continue to do so.

New Brunswick Police Department Officer Kevin Conway shows off his body armor to a young boy during National Night Out on August 2. (Image Credit: New Brunswick)
New Brunswick Police Department Officer Kevin Conway shows off his body armor to a young boy during National Night Out on August 2. (Image Credit: New Brunswick)

I would suggest those reacting to the Targum article need only look to our practices and actions to learn their concerns might be misplaced as few NJ municipalities have been as welcoming to immigrants as New Brunswick.

New Brunswick includes its immigrant population in all its services and programs. It does not make distinctions based on immigration status.

Moreover, as a result of an ongoing and vibrant working relation with its immigrant community, New Brunswick has also undertaken specific program development and legislation like:

  • Establishing bilingual crime watch and community-police meetings
  • Implementing a fair and efficient process for evaluating U-Visa Certification Requests
  • Establishing the first paid sick leave law in the state providing rights for employees of temporary staffing agencies where many immigrants find employment
  • Enacting NJ’s first anti-wage theft ordinance that has helped immigrant workers recover thousands of dollars in unpaid wages
  • Lobbying by Council resolution and mayoral support for the NJ DREAM Act and Drivers Licenses for undocumented residents as a public safety need
  • Maintaining a bilingual website to ensure Spanish-speaking residents are kept informed and involved in all that is going on in our City.
  • Offering ESL, Citizenship, Civics Education, and English conversation classes.
  • Preparing to implement a municipal ID program to become one of the few municipalities in the state to do so
  • Protecting tenants from excessive rent increases due to housing demands through one of the few rent control ordinances remaining in the state, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars returned to immigrant tenants.

In these sensitive times, we will work to prevent those that would tear apart what makes New Brunswick the great and unique place that it is, its social fabric, whether by harsh immigration enforcement policies or misinformation that erodes trust among our community stakeholders.

New Brunswick, New Jersey (Image Credit: Jimmy Kastner, New Brunswick Today)
New Brunswick, New Jersey (Image Credit: Jimmy Kastner, New Brunswick Today)

We will continue to be a community that welcomes, respects, and protects all our residents, including those who are immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

We will continue our proud 300-plus year history as a community shaped in part by the contributions of immigrants from around the world, serving as a port of entry for those seeking a better life, here in the City of New Brunswick and the United States of America.

-Jim Cahill, Mayor

By J Bradshaw, Public Information Officer for the City of New Brunswick, New Jersey