HOBOKEN — Mayor Ravi Bhalla did not waste time getting to work after being sworn in this weekend, declaring the city to be "fair and welcoming" to its immigrant population.

Bhalla, the first Sikh mayor in the state, said he made the declaration because "the Hoboken we know and love was built by immigrants and today is sustained by immigrants." As a "fair and welcoming" city, local law enforcement resources won't be used in the enforcement of immigration laws "irrespective of immigration status."

"Due to the city's limited resources, the clear need to foster the trust of and cooperation from the public, including members of vulnerable communities, and to effectuate the City's goals, Hoboken must clarify its role in protecting all city residents' privacy and rights," the order says.

"Many of the immigrants who found a home in Hoboken sailed past Lady Liberty and her poem welcoming 'your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," Bhalla said.

A statement from the city said the order "sends an unmistakable message that Hoboken is a place that welcomes all who are ready, willing, and able to contribute to our great city."

The order says Hoboken "values its ethnic, racial, linguistic, and socio-economic diversity," and that the city's diversity "is a source of strength and Hoboken is committed to ensuring that all our residents can live and pursue their livelihoods in peace and prosperity."

Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante said the department will be implementing new policies.

"Studies show that undocumented residents who fall victim to crime — even heinous, violent crime — too often don't report them to police due to fear of penalties or deportation," Ferrante said. "I am hopeful that this policy will ease those concerns so that we as a police department can investigate alleged crimes and take violent criminals who prey on vulnerable victims off the streets and send them towards prosecution in our criminal justice system."

The order notes that "undue collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE will make immigrants less likely to report crimes, act as witnesses in criminal investigations and prosecutions, and provide intelligence to law enforcement."

As part of the order, Hoboken will not honor immigration detainer requests or other immigration related requests "unless such request or warrant is a valid and properly issued judicial criminal warrant.

Municipal officials and employees are also not allowed to ask for or request information about the citizenship or immigration status of a person "unless such inquiry or investigation is required by state law, regulation, or directive or by federal law or regulation."

The city will also not deny services to people based on immigration status unless it is required by state or federal laws. Hoboken will also form a Fair and Welcoming City Commission to "ensure implementation of policies that preserve and protect our diverse and inclusive community." The commission will include representatives from the city's law department, police department, health department, and municipal court. Other groups involved in the city "will be invited to participate and share their views and ideas with the commission."

While President Donald Trump's administration has threatened to cut funding to municipalities that declare themselves "sanctuary cities," the order said city residents are "deeply concerned about how the presidential administration will impact their lives and families, whether they will be forced to leave this country, and whether rights and protections afforded to them will suddenly be taken away."

The declaration was hailed by national politicians and others. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said with the order Bhalla "has made official what has always been understood: ours is a nation that welcomes, embraces, and defends those who come here with good will and a desire to make a better life."

Amol Sinha, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said the order "demonstrates the approach communities can take to protect their residents from the anti-immigrant policies of the government," and applauded Bhalla for "beginning his administration on a note of inclusion and justice for all."

In addition to the steps taken by Bhalla and the police department the city council will also consider steps to formalize the actions taken by the new mayor.

Several municipalities across New Jersey have already declared themselves sanctuary cities, despite the threats made by the federal government. Hoboken joins Morristown in declaring themselves "Fair and Welcoming."

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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