Just five days into his presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order—one of many—to crack down on sanctuary cities, threatening to withhold federal funds from municipalities that protect undocumented immigrants. The order hit home in some of New Jersey’s largest urban communities, including Newark, Jersey City, Plainfield, Trenton, Linden and Asbury Park—all sanctuary cities.
The city of East Orange joined the list after Trump’s election in November. East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor III—like other mayors across the state and the nation—has vowed to defy Trump’s executive order if necessary. We asked Taylor about his city’s position.
New Jersey Monthly: Why did East Orange rush to declare itself a sanctuary city after the presidential election?
Lester Taylor III: Trump’s platform was based on targeting immigrant and vulnerable populations, many of whom make up the very fabric of who we are as a community. The East Orange City Council designated East Orange a sanctuary city to reassure our residents, both documented and undocumented, that East Orange would not become a police state.
NJM: What policies are in place that make East Orange a safe haven?
LTIII: East Orange has always been committed to protecting the civil rights of our immigrant population. The sanctuary city designation was created to go on record with our position to remain a safe place for immigrants to live. As approved by the City Council, the formal resolution is the first step to pledging our commitment to develop strong anti-discrimination policies and privacy protections that allow us to comply with federal guidelines, but still protect the best interests of our citizens.
NJM: Critics say sanctuary cities allow law breakers to remain in our country and stymie immigration officials’ efforts to keep America safe. How do you respond?
LTIII: While we seek to comply with all federal and state guidelines, our policies are focused on protecting the civil rights of law-abiding residents of East Orange, insuring that all are treated fairly without the fear of discrimination based on ethnicity or immigration status. We have learned that a city is safer when all residents, regardless of status, feel safe reporting crimes.
NJM: What effect will the president’s executive order have on local law enforcement?
LTIII: The East Orange Police Department’s successful community policing program is based on the mutual trust that exists between our diverse police force and the people they serve. When it comes to protecting our most vulnerable citizens, all municipal agencies in the city of East Orange are on the same page.
NJM: Are you concerned about President Trump’s threat to punish sanctuary cities by stripping away federal grant money if they defy his order?
LTIII: There has yet to be a direct impact from the president’s threat to pull federal funding. However, we refuse to be intimidated, and we are prepared to advocate to uphold the civil rights of the people in our community.
NJM: How do you think the sanctuary city issue will be resolved?
LTIII: My hope is that other sanctuary cities—like our neighbors in Newark and Maplewood—continue to stand with us to protect the quality of life for the people in our community. But no matter what happens in Washington, D.C., I can assure the people of East Orange that we will uphold our pledge of being a welcoming and inclusive community for all.