On the heels of a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, Senate Democrats are looking to put their money where their mouth is and protect sanctuary cities from potential funding cuts.

Well, not their money. The state’s money. And given that the issue is still unfolding, nobody’s sure exactly how much.

Trump signed an executive order Jan. 25 that says it will be administration policy to withhold federal funds from jurisdictions that don’t follow United States immigration laws. New Jersey has sanctuary jurisdictions that don’t share information about undocumented immigrants.

Proposed legislation, S-3007, now on the fast track would have the state Department of Community Affairs provide grants to any county or municipality that sees its federal funding cut. The bill skipped a committee hearing and is set for a vote Monday in the full Senate.

“I don’t think he can do it legally, just like his travel ban,” Senate Pres. Steve Sweeney said of Trump. “But we are going to speak up in the Legislature. We are going to let our feelings known to the nation.”

“We’re New Jersey. Ellis Island is in New Jersey. The Statue of Liberty is in New Jersey. And we’re going to support policies that put walls up and chase people out? Not in New Jersey,” Sweeney said.

Critics question whether the federal government can force municipalities to cooperate by withholding federal funds, citing the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

“The federal government is not allowed to will its way on states, counties and municipalities and basically using a stick to take away aid for them to have to do what they want them to do,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, who said he supports the idea of having the state reimburse local governments for any lost federal aid if that does come to pass.

The federal government has imposed a minimum drinking age and drunk-driving limits by putting highway funds in jeopardy if those laws weren’t passed by states.

The bill seems highly unlikely to be signed by Gov. Chris Christie, who told Fox News last week the Trump administration would have "a really willing partner in me" if it followed through on withholding funds from sanctuary cities.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, said he has “grave concerns” about the reimbursement proposal.

“The state stepping in to pick up an individual town’s obligations in this regard I think would be extraordinarily expensive to the taxpayers,” Kean said.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said “it’s going to be extremely difficult to enforce this, let’s say, threat of taking money away from municipalities.” He said the rhetoric needs to be toned down and federal and municipal officials talk about finding common ground.

“When the federal government gets into specific fights with cities and municipalities, that can expand to a point where the rule of law can be lost,” Bramnick said. “And I believe that compromise in that area must be the rule of the day. And if it’s not, I think our society would be threatened with respect to respect for the federal government and respect for local government.”

“I’m on the side of compromising between the federal government and the cities and the state government so we don’t have that kind of crisis because that can easily explode. It’s one of the most dangerous conflicts that we can have, where mayors stand on one side, the president stands on the other side, and I would we work that out so we don’t have that, in my judgment, a constitutional crisis,” Bramnick said.

Bramnick doubts there would be widespread support for guaranteeing reimbursements, especially because nothing has happened yet and nobody knows what it might cost.

“What’s more important here is the extremes that have gone on in this country and now in New Jersey to some degree. That’s what’s scary to me as a legislative leader. All of this can be worked out if there’s discussion, negotiation. Because the goal is to fight terrorism. It’s not to fight immigrants,” he said.


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