CAMDEN — Gov. Phil Murphy spent part of the nation's birthday welcoming new citizens and signing an executive order that creates an office to help immigrants.

The order directs the state Human Services and Labor departments to create the Office of New Americans.

Immigrants number more than 2 million, nearly a quarter of the state's population. An estimated 6.9% of New Jersey's residents are not citizens, although it is not clear how many of them are in the country illegally.

In a statement released by Murphy's office, the governor said his administration has asked the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to allow the state to have a greater role in the integration of refugees. Gov. Chris Christie had pulled the state out of this program during his second term.

“While the federal government takes action that prevents immigrants from seeking the American Dream, New Jersey will fight for our brothers and sisters and stand against the hatred and bigotry coming from Washington,” Murphy said. “Immigrants are an integral part of our state, and enrich our communities socially, culturally, and economically. Through these new measures, we will continue to sustain our progress to build a fair and inclusive state for all.”

According to the order, the new office's responsibilities will include:

— Promoting trainings that inform new Americans of the availability of services and their rights, including in the employment context;

— Working with organizations and advocacy groups to increase accessibility to State programs for new
Americans;

— Ensuring that services are accessible to New American populations, including those who speak languages other than English.

The executive order comes less than a week after Murphy signed an appropriations bill that allocates $3.1 million for legal services for immigrants fighting deportation.

Murphy announced the measures Thursday as 40 people from 23 counties were naturalized as a citizens during an Independence Day ceremony on the USS New Jersey battleship in Camden.

Murphy said the Office of New Americans "will be the first statewide office to focus on immigrant and refugee integration and will focus on ensuring access to social services and inclusion in New Jersey’s economy."

An Interagency Workgroup on New American Integration with representatives from 12 state departments will "develop, coordinate, and implement best practices for immigrant and refugee integration and inclusion" in state programs.

The measures are part of the Murphy administration's ongoing efforts to set itself apart from President Donald Trump's administration when it comes to refugees and immigrants living in the country illegally.

In the fall, the state Attorney General's Office released new guidelines that restricted local police and jail cooperation with federal authorities on civil immigration matters. The guidelines prevent police from questioning people about their immigration status unless the matter is relevant to an investigation. The rules also prevent county jails from indefinitely detaining inmates on behalf of ICE.

The rules, derided as "sanctuary state" policies by critics, are designed to get otherwise law-abiding immigrants to trust law enforcement, such as reporting crimes and cooperating with investigations without fear of being arrested and deported.

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