NEWARK – In an often-lively debate Tuesday in which the candidates diverged sharply over a dozen issues, one area where Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli held back was on immigration.

Ciattarelli struck a moderate tone and didn’t answer a question about the Immigrant Trust Directive enacted by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration that limits local police cooperation with U.S. Immigrations and Customers Enforcement.

Ciattarelli said the solution is a national immigration policy that puts undocumented immigrants “on a path toward recognition.” He said the country isn’t about to deport as many as 16 million people.

He then pivoted to a different portion of the question to support driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants, which began to be issued in May under a law signed by Murphy. That differs from his position in a debate four months ago.

“With regard to undocumented immigrants getting a license, I believe that’s a great security measure,” Ciattarelli said. “They’re here. They’re not going anywhere. Let’s know who they are. Let’s give them a driver’s license. We don’t want people on our roads driving without a license, without insurance.”

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In the past, Ciattarelli has bashed the operations of Murphy’s Motor Vehicle Commission for giving priority to “those here illegally” over citizens.

And in the gubernatorial primary debate on May 25 hosted by New Jersey 101.5, Ciattarelli said he would stop issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and criticized the Immigrant Trust Directive.

“Unfortunately, we have a governor that seems to encourage illegal immigration when he goes around the state waving a victory flag because we’re giving driver’s licenses to illegals or he wants to declare sanctuary cities and sanctuary states,” Ciattarelli said.

“Under Gov. Ciattarelli, we will not have sanctuary cities. We will not have sanctuary states,” he said. “And my attorney general would never tell any local law enforcement community at the municipal or county level that they can’t work in partnership with any federal agency like ICE to address any situation in their community.”

In response to a follow-up question by New Jersey 101.5’s Eric Scott, Ciattarelli made remarks similar to those in Tuesday's debate – but then said he’d stop the licenses.

“In one respect, from a security standpoint, and I’ve spoken to law enforcement about this, they like the idea of if people are not going to be deported, we should know who they are and where they are. And that’s one thing that a government-issued ID provides because otherwise, we lack security in our community,” Ciattarelli said. “At the same time, I would end the program.”

In Tuesday's debate, Ciattarelli also noted his vote in 2013 to allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

“I voted for the DREAM Act,” he said. “I was one of the few Republicans that did that because we’re not going to deny young people who came here under no power of their own the opportunity to pursue their American dream.”

Four Republicans in the Assembly voted for the bill, which then-Gov. Chris Christie signed into law in December 2013.

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Murphy did answer the question about the Immigrant Trust directive, calling it “a huge step” that encourages cooperation between communities and police.

“When we were running four years ago, there were a lot of folks who wanted to cross that wire between law enforcement and immigration status,” Murphy said. “Those wires have been uncrossed forever, and that’s the right thing. You have a safer state.”

Ciattarelli followed up by steering the conversation to taxes.

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