In one of his first actions as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order to withhold federal grant money from sanctuary cities.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the order will “strip federal grant money from sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants.”

So what exactly is a sanctuary city?

The definition you’ll get depends on who you ask.

Generally speaking, the term “sanctuary city” refers to jurisdictions that have policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement actions.

“There isn’t an absolute definition of what a sanctuary city or policy is, but in abstract it is a locality or municipality that would provide some sort of safety and protection to its immigrant residents,” said Chia-Chia Wang, the organizing and advocacy director for the American Friends Service Committee.

She agreed that a sanctuary city is thought of as a place that sets limits or resists cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, but also these locations will provide social, police and fire protection services for immigrants in their community, regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented.

Dianna Houenou, policy council for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, stressed one of the problems of labeling a location as a sanctuary city is that it’s actually a bit of a misnomer.

“There’s no 100 percent guarantee that an individual won’t be subject to immigrant enforcement and deportation," she said.

For that reason, they are “increasingly opting for using the term 'fair and welcoming city.'”

She pointed out by using that term, “you won’t convey the sense there is some sort of a safe haven, but also it’s a bit broader — it can address anti-discrimination policies that the city adopts and resources that are available to the immigrant community.”

An often-cited reason by municipalities that favor welcoming attitudes toward immigrants irrespective of their legal status is that they don't want residents to be afraid of calling or cooperating with police or other city agencies out of fear of deportation.

There are several towns and cities in New Jersey that the conservative Center for Immigration studies considers sanctuary cities — though its important to note its definition or list is by no means universal. The CIS says its own list reflects juristictions with rules that "obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE — either by refusing to or prohibiting agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, denying ICE access to interview incarcerated aliens, or otherwise impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers."


Municipalities appearing on the CIS and other similar lists include Asbury Park, Camden, East Orange, Jersey City, Linden, New Brunswick, Newark, North Bergen, Plainfield, Trenton and Union City. In addition, Union, Middlesex and Ocean counties are mentioned by some as sanctuary jurisdictions.

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