Princeton, N.J., could take a symbolic step toward becoming a “sanctuary city” for immigrants. Members of the city government would like to pass a formal resolution barring local police from enforcing immigration laws.
Princeton police captain Nick Sutter says he knows that when immigrants without authorization are robbed or assaulted here, it sometimes goes unreported.
“They feel that if they come forward, and they entered the country illegally, that we’re going to take an immigration action against them and deport them,” Sutter said.
Princeton Councilwoman Heather Howard supports a formal statement that this would not be city policy, even if it may be symbolic.
“A victim or a witness to a crime, you want them to […] know that they can trust their local law enforcement,” Howard said.
Things have become more formalized since “sanctuary cities” began emerging in the 1980s.
Princeton police will still follow more recent state and federal mandates to report offenders of immigration law. A 2007 school shooting in Newark by a gang member, who had a prior record and who was in the country illegally, led the state’s attorney general to create strict requirements for when local police should call immigration.
Under the federal Secure Communities program, fingerprints taken during bookings, even potentially for relatively minor offenses, still go directly to the Department of Homeland Security.
But Maria Juega, executive director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, thinks others will benefit from the city’s statement.
“The demarcation between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement would be very helpful,” she said.
Juega will keep advocating for other cities in New Jersey to do the same. She says given the current immigration debate in Congress, it’s even more important to make people feel welcome.
The proposed resolution is still in its earliest stages. It would be put up for public comment before passage.