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Pushing Back:
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal Takes on Trump








On the eighth day of the government shutdown, the Trump Administration was dogged by reports of yet another investigation. New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir Singh Grewal, was looking into whether Donald Trump’s golf club in Bedminster had hired undocumented housekeepers - including a Guatemalan woman who said that she had illegally entered the United States from Mexico and often made the President’s bed.

Trump’s troubles with New York’s legal authorities are well publicized. Less well known are the dozens of legal actions against the Administration in which its neighbor across the Hudson has participated, “everything from the travel bans to DACA to family separations,” Gurbir said not long ago. New Jersey has one of the largest populations of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., an estimated five hundred thousand.

Gurbir Singh, who took office a year ago, is the nation’s first Sikh attorney general. On a recent Thursday, he was in his Newark office, wearing a trim suit, a navy turban, and an Apple Watch. He tugged his tie loose. “Since this is not on camera, I can relax for a second,” he said. One of Gurbir’s advisers, Andrew Bruck, put a box of Italian cookies on a table and sat down to study his phone.

A few hours earlier, Gurbir had held a press conference to announce new rules for the state police, which would limit their coöperation with federal immigration authorities. Under the rules, New Jersey police can no longer detain people based solely on their immigration status or participate in raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Bruck looked up from his phone. ICE had just issued a response. The agency said that it would have “no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites.” Bruck translated: “They’re going to do more immigration raids.”

“I mean, they’re free to do whatever they want,” Gurbir said. “Just without our help.”

Gurbir, who is forty-five, lives in Glen Rock with his wife and three daughters, and attends the local Gurdwara. Born in Jersey City to Sikh immigrants, he learned early on that his fellow-citizens, unfamiliar with Sikhism, might associate him with America’s foreign adversaries. “I remember when the hostage crisis happened, we were all Iranian,” he recalled.

After September 11, he’d experience “just general nastiness,” he said. “Driving on the highway, people would sort of look at you, give you the finger.”

Then came Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. “What we’re seeing - and I think it’s very much a result of the tenor at the top - is a normalization of hate speech,” he said.

This past summer, two local radio hosts were suspended for calling Gurbir “turban man” on the air. Then the sheriff of the county where he lives - “I thought, a friend,” Gurbir said - resigned after he was caught on tape opining that Gurbir was appointed because of “the turban.”

That evening, Gurbir attended a community meeting in Paterson, where officials were hoping to make undocumented immigrants more comfortable interacting with authorities before the 2020 census. At the meeting, held in an elementary-school classroom, some thirty men and women, most of them black and Hispanic, sat on plastic chairs. Shedding his suit jacket, Gurbir accepted a microphone. “I believe - and you can disagree with me - that we have an Administration in Washington that is doing everything it can to make this state unwelcoming to immigrants,” he said. “Our new, vulnerable populations fear anyone with a badge.”

He talked about the risk of undocumented immigrants being afraid to testify in trials or to report crimes, and added, “This is not who we are in this state.” A cell phone on a table rang and he reached for it, asking, “Is that my wife?” It was. The audience giggled as he told her, “I’ll call you right back!”

It was time for questions. “I’d like to really encourage a dialogue now,” he said. A man in a bomber jacket asked, “What’s New Jersey’s position vis-à-vis the Muslim ban?”

“Unfortunately, we lost that fight,” Gurbir said. His office had supported Hawaii’s lawsuit against the travel ban, but this past summer the Supreme Court upheld it.

A woman asked how to distinguish a local police officer from an ICE agent. Gurbir shook his head. “I don’t have an easy answer for that,” he said. “That’s part of the problem.”

Maria Del Pilar Rivas raised her hand. She’d come to the U.S. from Peru forty years ago, and now counsels more recent immigrants. She wondered how undocumented people could learn about the new state policies without going to public meetings. “People are very, very afraid to go out,” she said.

Gurbir said that his office had posted videos online in ten languages, including Korean, Haitian Creole, and Tagalog. “If you could help push that message out, we would appreciate it,” he told the audience.

Speaking in soft, accented English, a man in the back praised Gurbir for standing up to Washington. “I encourage you to be strong,” he said, and people clapped. Gurbir thanked him, and collected his jacket. “O.K.,” he said, “I have to call my wife.”

Courtesy: The New Yorker. Edited for

January 12, 2019



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New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal Takes on Trump"

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