TRENTON — New Jersey officials are expressing outrage about the separation of immigrant children from their parents, including Gov. Phil Murphy, who said Tuesday he would sign an executive order to prohibit any state resources from being used in immigration enforcement efforts that separate families.
The Democratic governor announced his intention to sign the order later Tuesday while at an unrelated news conference to promote his proposed state budget and its investment in NJ Transit funding. He said the policy was "utterly inhumane" and "cruel," and that New Jersey would not support it.
"Ever since our founding — and you can argue even before — our nation has been a beacon for families seeking freedom and yearning for a better life. President Trump has turned this promise on its head by doubling down on his inhumane and cruel policy of separating families," Murphy said. "Housing children in cages should send chills down the spine of any right-thinking American."
"This has nothing to do with Congress, or with Democrats or with Republicans. This is a matter of human rights, human dignity and basic humanity. I am proud to join the voices from all sides of the political spectrum and from respective leaders in our communities of faith. ... This is America, we know better and can do better," the governor added.
It was not immediately clear what state resources may be restricted under the order, although Murphy specified that the New Jersey National Guard would be subject to it. Some state Guard units have been deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border to help patrol there.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan cited the Trump administration's separation policy on Tuesday when he ordered a small unit of its National Guard to immediately return from a station in New Mexico.
"Washington has failed again & again to deliver needed immigration reform. Congress and the administration must step up and work together to fix our broken system. Immigration enforcement efforts should focus on criminals, not separating innocent children from their families," Hogan tweeted Tuesday. "Until this policy of separating children from their families has been rescinded, Maryland will not deploy any National Guard resources to the border. Earlier this morning, I ordered our 4 crewmembers & helicopter to immediately return from where they were stationed in New Mexico."
The issue of family separation has exploded in the wake of news reports about immigrant children being removed from their parents accused of making illegal border crossings as part of the Trump administration's enforcement of a "zero-tolerance" policy toward illegal entry prosecution.
Under the policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services because they are not permitted to be charged and detained as criminal suspects. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May.
Prior to his announcement, Murphy was urged to take the executive action by state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, who called the act of removing immigrant children from their families "reprehensible."
"Tearing families apart and essentially orphaning children upon their arrival in a foreign land is reprehensible, and New Jersey tax dollars and other resources should not be spent, used or deployed to enact this disgraceful policy," Singleton wrote in a letter to the governor. "The deafening silence of so many in government, who refuse to speak and act out against this cruel and inhumane practice will not be lost to the annals of history. As a father and a human being, I hope that you will give all due consideration to this request and demonstrate action on behalf of New Jersey."
Singleton later applauded Murphy for his swift action and leadership in ensuring New Jersey resources would not be "complicit in this inhumane action."
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal also joined with 20 other state attorney generals on a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that condemned the zero-tolerance policy and the forced separation of children.
In a separate statement, Grewal said it was undermining law enforcement efforts in New Jersey.
"What's happening on the border is having a direct impact on what's happening in New Jersey," he said. "As a career prosecutor, I've seen that law enforcement works best when it has the trust of local communities, and the heartlessness of the administration's family separation policy is undermining the trust we've worked so hard to build. That makes it less likely crime victims and witnesses will come forward to work with law enforcement and that, in turn, makes our communities less safe."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.