NJ AG moves to limit police cooperation with ICE

The new rules, the AG's office said, are designed to strengthen trust between police agencies and the state’s diverse immigrant communities


By Jeff Gammage
The Philadelphia Inquirer

TRENTON, NJ — New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has issued a sweeping directive to state, county and local law enforcement agencies to limit the type of assistance their officers can offer to federal immigration authorities.

The new rules, his office said, are designed to strengthen trust between police agencies and the state’s diverse immigrant communities.

The order is intended to “draw a clear line” between the responsibilities of New Jersey’s 36,000 law enforcement officers to enforce state criminal laws, and the jobs of immigration agents to enforce federal immigration law. It applies to police, prosecutors, county detectives, sheriff’s officers, and corrections officers, and seeks to ensure that immigrants feel safe in reporting crimes to police, according to the attorney general.

The directive marks the latest front in the war between immigration advocates who demand strict separation between state and federal law-enforcement, and Trump administration officials who insist that local police must help catch undocumented immigrants. The administration has dramatically clamped down on legal and illegal immigration — and criticized the so-called “sanctuary cities” that won’t help ICE do its job.

Then-Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and the city of Philadelphia fought a major federal lawsuit over the administration’s attempt to withhold grant money to force the city to cooperate.

In June, after a four-day trial and nearly a year of litigation, a federal judge ruled for Philadelphia, saying the city’s refusal to help enforce immigration laws was based on policies that are reasonable, rational, and equitable. U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson ruled that the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold about $1.5 million in federal law-enforcement grant money “violates statutory and constitutional law.”

Called the “Immigrant Trust Directive,” Grewal’s directive states that except in limited circumstances, New Jersey law enforcement officers cannot:

  • Stop, question, arrest, search, or detain anyone based on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Ask people their immigration status, unless it’s necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense.
  • Participate in immigration-enforcement operations conducted by officers with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE.
  • Provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement databases, office space, or equipment, unless those resources are also available to the public.
  • Allow ICE to interview anyone arrested on a criminal charge unless that person is advised of the right to a lawyer.

“We know from experience that individuals are far less likely to report a crime to the local police if they fear that the responding officer will turn them over to federal immigration authorities,” Grewal said. “That fear makes it more difficult for officers to solve crimes and bring suspects to justice.”

It’s important, he added, that “no law-abiding resident of this great state should live in fear that a routine traffic stop by local police will result in his or her deportation.”

Efforts to reach ICE officials were not immediately successful.

ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence told WNYC that the directive “undermines public safety and hinders ICE from performing its federally-mandated mission.”

“Ultimately,” Albence said in a statement, “this directive shields certain criminal aliens, creating a state-sanctioned haven for those seeking to evade federal authorities, all at the expense of the safety and security of the very people the (New Jersey) Attorney General is charged with protecting.”

Grewal noted that nothing in the directive implies that New Jersey offers “sanctuary” to law-breakers. And nothing hampers police from complying with federal law or valid court orders, including judicial arrest warrants.

“Police officers are charged with the care and safety of all members of the community, regardless of their immigration status,” Camden County Police Chief J. Scott Thomson said in a statement. “When any one group fears its police to the point where crimes and criminals are not reported, public and officer safety are gravely threatened.”

The New Jersey ACLU praised the directive, saying its development incorporated voices and opinions of immigration advocates and law enforcement officers, and will ultimately build greater trust between communities and police.

“Every New Jerseyan should be able to raise their children, go to work, and contribute to their communities without the fear that an ordinary interaction with police could derail their lives,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Supervising Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Because of this directive, everyone in our state can feel more secure in their rights and safer in their communities.”

Importantly, the ACLU said, New Jersey jails will dramatically reduce instances where they honor immigration detainers — requests from ICE to hold someone while the agency checks their immigration status — unless supported by a signed judicial warrant.

ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said that “with this directive, we can proudly answer who we are as New Jerseyans: we’re a state of people who feel morally bound to stand up for the rights, dignity, and safety of everyone who lives here, no matter their country of origin or place of birth.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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