New Jersey will join a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop it from dismantling a program that protects undocumented immigrants raised in the United States from deportation, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Wednesday.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia sued the Trump administration in September after it decided to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave a form of amnesty and work permits to undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children. The program’s fate is uncertain and has been at the center of recent negotiations in Congress and the White House, playing a major role in a three-day government shutdown that ended Monday.
Murphy announced the state’s planned participation in the lawsuit during a swearing-in ceremony in the state house for Parthiv Patel, the first Dreamer admitted to the New Jersey State Bar Association. Patel, a DACA recipient, came to the U.S. from India at the age of five and passed the bar exams of both New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 2016.
“By swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States, Parthiv will make it clear that this is his home and that he deserves to be protected by our Constitution and laws, just as he will seek to protect the constitutional rights of his clients,” Murphy said. “And with this oath, we will also lay bare the hypocrisy of the Trump administration’s policies, policies which would prevent some our best and brightest from living their dreams and contributing to our communities and our society.”
New Jersey has roughly 22,000 DACA beneficiaries who could be subject to deportation if the Obama-era program is phased out starting in March.
A federal judge recently blocked the Trump administration from winding down DACA, while the states’ legal challenge proceeds, but the Justice Department has said it would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the judge’s ruling. Meanwhile, lawmakers and the White House are working on a permanent solution for young immigrants.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in September that the Trump administration was winding down DACA because former President Barack Obama had not gotten congressional approval for the program. President Trump said at the time that a lawsuit from a separate group of states challenging DACA threatened to dismantle the program and that the six-month window he was providing gave Congress a chance to devise a fix.
Murphy pledged to protect undocumented immigrants during his gubernatorial campaign. In addition to supporting the lawsuit, Murphy has said he’d 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 supports issuing driver’s licenses to anyone regardless of immigration status. And he has said he wants to make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” that would not cooperate with the federal government’s immigration enforcement efforts.
Murphy said Wednesday that he intended to establish the office of immigrant protection but noticeably didn’t mention the sanctuary state policy when asked how he planned to shelter young undocumented immigrants. He said his administration will “do what it takes” to protect undocumented immigrants like Patel.
“We’re making it absolutely clear today that we will use all of the tools of the attorney general’s office to protect the rights of Dreamers like Parthiv, to enjoy that American Dream, and to ensure the safety and well-being of all New Jerseyans regardless of their immigration status,” said state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who administered the oath of the New Jersey Bar to Patel.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey assisted Patel in his application for bar admission in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In a statement, the ACLU branch said Patel’s application stalled when the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners notified him that his immigration status made him ineligible. He was ultimately admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in December and received word last week that he would be admitted to the New Jersey Bar.
“No one should face barriers to serving the greater good because of where they were born,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “Parthiv is a son of New Jersey, and his story fits squarely in the American Dream.”