TRENTON — New Jersey will join in a lawsuit filed by New York and several other states challenging President Donald Trump’s decision to end a program that protected young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
Murphy announced the state’s intention to join the legal action Wednesday during a Statehouse ceremony where he and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal swore-in Mount Laurel resident Parthiv Patel as a member of the New Jersey bar association.
Patel, 23, is believed to be the first so-called “Dreamer” immigrant to be admitted into the association.
“Your story stands as a shining example of what it is we’re fighting for,” Murphy said at the ceremony. “You are as much an American as any of my four kids or, frankly, anyone in our state.”
The DACA program was created in 2012 via an executive order by former President Barack Obama but Donald Trump has ordered it to end March 5 unless Congress sends him legislation to continue the program and also beef up border security and immigration controls.
The issue is at the heart of a budget-standoff between Democrats and Republicans in Congress that caused a weekend federal government shutdown. The shutdown ended Monday after Senate Democrats agreed to end a filibuster of a continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 8 while negotiations over a DACA fix and border security continue.
Murphy, a Democrat who was sworn in as governor last week, has pledged to protect New Jersey’s about 22,000 Dreamers, as well as other immigrants who call the Garden State home.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, he was critical of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats who voted in favor of ending the shutdown without a deal to protect Dreamers.
All five New Jersey Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation voted in favor of the resolution. They were joined by Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Both New Jersey senators Cory Booker and Bob Menenedez voted against the bill, as did the remaining six Democratic representatives.
“I commend all in our congressional delegation who opposed leaving our Dreamers on the doorstep, and I applaud all who understand that (Republican Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell’s intention to take up DACA, coupled with the president’s ever-vacillating position, are an unworthy substitute for actually passing a permanent DACA fix right now,” Murphy said.
“I fear we’re going to be right back here at the exact same place in three weeks and the more chaos there is, the more Dreamers get hurt,” he added.
New York and 14 other states, plus the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit in September after Trump announced he would repeal the DACA program. While Trump and other opponents have argued that Obama’s executive order to establish the protections exceeded his authority, the group of states contend that eliminating the protections for the some 800,000 immigrants who registered under the program would unfairly subject them to deportation and harm their states’ economies.
New Jersey stands to lose some $66 million in state and local taxes and $1.6 billion in economic activity if DACA protections are repealed, according to the left-leaning think tank, New Jersey Policy Perspective.
Murphy said joining the lawsuit was a way to make clear that New Jersey would stand up for the rights of all law-abiding residents, including Dreamers like Patel.
“We’re making it clear to Dreamers that the road forward for them exists in New Jersey and that we’re stronger and fairer when we work as one extended family,” the governor said, citing Patel’s story.
“By swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States, Parthiv will make it clear that this is his home and he deserves to be protected by our constitution and laws, just as he will seek to protect the constitutional rights of his clients.”
Patel was just 5 years old when he and his family immigrated to the United States, and one of his earliest memories of America was a crowded motel room he and his family lived in when they first came to New Jersey.
He credited hard work and perseverance for allowing him to live his own American dream of attending college, law school and passing the bar. He also thanked the American Civil Liberties Union, which advocated for his admittance to both New Jersey and Pennsylvania bar associations after his immigration status complicated his admittance as part of the “character and fitness” component of the review.
“Dreamers are Americans. We are the fifth-graders alongside your children in the school play. We are your friends, your colleagues. We are your doctors and accountants, and now in New Jersey, your lawyers,” he said Wednesday.
He recalled the anxiety he faced as he began the process of seeking admission to the associations, saying at one point it brought him to tears.
“I did what Dreamers do best, I decided to persevere,” he said, adding that he learned that there were others who would stand up for him and his rights.
“There are people out there to support us. Let me standing here be a testament to all Dreamers that we are not alone. There are countless people ready and able to speak up for us,” he said. “Do not give up. Keep doing what you do best, persevere .. keep dreaming.”
In addition to joining the lawsuit, Murphy reiterated that his administration planned to establish an office of immigrant protection within the state government to provide assistance and a point of contact for immigrants to turn to for legal advice and other matters.
“We will do what it takes to make sure we have the backs of guys like (Patel),” he said. “We are committed to leading all 9 million of us in this state, regardless of what your circumstances are.”
Patel acknowledged he might face deportation if a deal to continue DACA is not reached. He said: The danger is real. The danger is there” but added that “I know people in America are willing to stand up and stand next to me in this fight.”
The action to join the lawsuit was applauded by several Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey, among them state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, who said it fulfilled Murphy’s promise to protect Dreamers from being removed from “the only country that many have ever known.”
“I support (Murphy’s) efforts in joining New Jersey to the ongoing federal legal action, which is in line with the belief of a majority of our fellow Americans who have been polled on this important issue,” he said.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, who is one of a hand full of House Republicans to press his party’s leadership to support a DACA fix, did not comment on the state’s lawsuit but congratulated Patel on his admission into the bar.
“He serves as a wonderful example for why Congress must find a bipartisan solution to address the uncertainty surrounding the DACA program,” MacArthur said. “During my first term in Congress, I voted against eliminating DACA and have since, including just last month, called on leaders in my own party to help find a permanent solution that addresses this issue with compassion and common sense.”