Gov. Christie on Sunday offered no assurances to immigrants in New Jersey who are in the United States illegally, as he defended recent immigration raids under President Trump’s administration that have netted some people without violent records.
“The laws that are in effect right now have to be enforced,” Christie said on CNN’s State of the Union, asked what his message was to New Jersey residents who are in the country illegally, but who have committed no violent crimes. “And that is what's happening right now.”
Federal immigration officials arrested undocumented immigrants in at least six states last week, targeting known criminals. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told reporters Friday that 75 percent of the 160 people detained in the agency’s operation had felony convictions, while the rest had misdemeanors or were in the country illegally.
Authorities have said they are simply enforcing the law. But although former President Obama’s administration targeted violent offenders and gang members, Trump’s immigration order Jan. 25 included among his enforcement priorities immigrants who had been arrested for any criminal offense, those who had committed fraud, and those who may have committed a crime.
Christie on Sunday downplayed the recent deportation of a Phoenix mother of two who had been convicted years earlier of criminal impersonation after an immigration raid at her work site, saying that “things don’t always go perfectly.”
“But that will be the overwhelming minority in all this,” Christie said. “What people should focus on is what the president is trying to do, which is to keep a campaign promise on making sure that violent criminals who are here illegally are taken out of the country in order to make America's streets safer.”
Earlier Sunday, Trump tweeted: “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”
Asked on CNN about New Jersey cities taking steps to protect undocumented immigrants – host Jake Tapper noted information distributed by Princeton University – Christie said “it should be surprising to no one that institutions like Princeton University … are going to take a very progressive, liberal position toward this and will try to grandstand this.”
A number of municipalities and counties in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states have practices described as “sanctuary” policies. In Camden, a city with which Christie has worked closely – and which does not describe itself as a sanctuary city – county Police Chief Scott Thomson has said that targeting undocumented immigrants would be “completely counterintuitive to what we’re trying to do here.”
Christie, who has weighed in on Trump’s administration in several television interviews recently, was also asked about allegations that the president’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office.
Noting that Flynn had initially denied talking to the ambassador about sanctions, but has since said he doesn’t remember, Christie said, “That's a conversation he is going to need to have with the president and the vice president to clear that up.”
The governor, who was removed as Trump’s transition team chair after the election, would not say whether he would accept a job in the administration when his term in New Jersey ends in January 2018.
“As I have told everybody, my intention is to go to the private sector and work to help support my family in a different way than I have been able to over the last 16 years as U.S. attorney and as governor,” Christie said. But he said Trump is a friend, and “whenever he calls and -- or I call him, and we have conversations, I'm always willing, if he asks, to give my opinion on things.”