With Election Day less than two weeks away, one of the issues that has driven the biggest divide between the two candidates for governor has been what to do with people who are in the state illegally.

Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy disagree on other topics as they vie to replace Gov. Chris Christie, but what to do with the estimated 22,000 unauthorized immigrants in the state has become a focal point as the race winds down.

Murphy has said if elected he will make New Jersey a sanctuary state. While he has not gotten into specifics of what that will mean, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany has said he wants New Jersey to be a "welcoming" place.

Several municipalities in New Jersey have already declared themselves sanctuary cities, including Jersey City, Newark, and Camden. Sanctuary cities make it a point to not have their police department enforce immigration law, which is a federal matter. Officials who defend this policy say that residents would not be willing to report crimes to police, show up to court or cooperate in criminal investigations if they are worried about being deported.

Murphy has said that if elected he would provide unauthorized immigrants with drivers licenses and statewide identification and allow so-called Dreamers to apply for in-state financial aid for college.

On his website, one of Murphy's campaign promises is "Protecting Immigrant Rights, Protecting New Jersey Values."

"Immigrants and DREAMERS represent our best hopes and aspirations," his campaign site says. "They are a vital part of our state and our future. I will protect them and ensure that their dreams do in fact come true right here, in their home state."

The Dreamers he refers to are those people in New Jersey covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.  According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the program was started in 2012 and allowed people who came to this country as children and who meet other stipulations to be eligible for certain benefits, including work authorization.

The Trump administration announced in September that the program was being repealed, but that the implementation of the repeal would be suspended for six months to allow Congress to find a solution of its own.

Guadagno, who served as Monmouth County sheriff before she was picked by Christie to become the state's first lieutenant governor, has used her background in law enforcement to back up both her stand on the issue and her attacks on her opponents.

"By making New Jersey a sanctuary state, Phil Murphy is saying he would rather protect dangerous criminals and murderers like Jose Carranza than stand up for the law abiding people of New Jersey," Guadagno says on her campaign website. Carranza was convicted in the killing of three students in Newark in 2007, and was in the country illegally from his native Peru.

"As a former prosecutor and sheriff, I can tell you that Phil Murphy is seriously misguided and would make New Jerseyans less safe as governor with policies like these."

With the election winding down and polls showing Guadagno trailing Murphy, her campaign recently released a commercial attacking Murphy on immigration. The commercial has been criticized by Murphy, editorial writers and immigration advocates as bigoted because it does not distinguish otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants from violent and dangerous criminals.

Guadagno says she would block sanctuary cities in the state, withhold funding or fine sanctuary cities who are found to have harbored violent criminals, and require local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration actions. That cooperation would also include background checks for people in the state's prisons and jails.

New Jersey voters will head to the polls on Nov. 7 to elect a new governor as well as a new Legislature with all seats in the state Senate and Assembly up for grabs.

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

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