What will it mean for New Jersey to be a "sanctuary state," as Gov. Phil Murphy promised as a candidate?

The official activity of Murphy’s first few days as governor provided clues but not clarity. His first four executive orders focused on equal pay for women, ethics, auditing corporate tax incentives and promoting Affordable Care Act enrollment.

However, Murphy mentioned immigration in his inaugural speech and was pressed a bit on it on MSNBC’s "Meet the Press Daily," and his attorney general shed a little light on the limits of those changes in his interview leading to his Senate confirmation.

“A stronger and fairer New Jersey welcomes all who wish to be part of building our future and protects our hardworking immigrant families,” Murphy said in his inaugural speech.

In addition to making undocumented immigrants eligible for driver’s licenses and college financial aid, Murphy wants the state to provide legal representation to some people who face deportation by creating an Office of Immigrant Protection in the Department of Law and Public Safety.

“We have one of the most diverse states in the nation, and there’s a lot of rumors that circulate around. We want one point of contact where folks can call up and get the right answer,” Murphy said on MSNBC.

The office would provide legal services to any New Jersey resident, including green-card holders and refugees, facing detention and potential deportation who cannot afford a lawyer.

Murphy said his immigration agenda expanded after the immigration changes Donald Trump began pursuing after becoming president a year ago.

“Now we got a lot of scared people in our state,” Murphy said.

The only member of Murphy’s Cabinet to be confirmed so far by the Senate is Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who indicated in his confirmation hearing that he intends to clarify how New Jersey law enforcement agencies are to handle detainer requests from federal agents.

Grewal told senators he doesn’t intend to revoke a 2007 directive that state, county and local police are to inquire about a person’s immigration status after he or she has been arrested for indictable offenses or driving while intoxicated.

It also directs police to notify federal immigration officials, county prosecutors and the judiciary if someone is believed to be undocumented.

“But even that directive starts from the premise that law enforcement officers in this state don’t enforce federal immigration law,” Grewal said.

Grewal said the directive needs to be updated to clarify “the gray area” of how long police should honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. He said police agencies must comply with court-issued warrants.

“The nuance there is that the detainer doesn’t have the force of a warrant, and in some places, that’s being challenged,” Grewal said. “I think there needs to be some instruction on how long, reasonably, can someone be held on a detainer.”

Grewal was confirmed by a 29-0 vote on Tuesday, the day Murphy took office.

More executive orders are expected from Murphy in the days ahead, though the topics haven’t yet been made public.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com