New Jersey cops can't bust residents over immigration status under new state rules
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal unveiled a new directive Thursday that restricts local law enforcement from participating in federal immigration operations, delivering a rebuke to the aggressive immigration policies of the Trump administration while attempting to improve trust with local police.
Local police officers in New Jersey can no longer stop, search or detain any individual over immigration status or detain immigrants at the request of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, except in cases of serious or violent crimes or final deportation orders, under the new rules.
The new directive draws clearer boundaries on the role of local, county and state law enforcement at a time when federal immigration authorities have dramatically increased detentions and deportations of individuals over immigration status or violations, Grewal said. The attorney general said the measure will also help victims and witnesses to feel safe reporting crimes in New Jersey, without fear of deportation.
“It’s an effort to build a model here that promotes trust with law enforcement and all our communities, that shows our immigrant communities throughout New Jersey that they can trust law enforcement and go about their daily lives without the fear that a trip to the grocery store will result in their removal to a detention facility,”said Grewal, who announced the directive at a news conference at Liberty State Park in Jersey City.
“We’re saying that no matter what is happening in other parts of the country, no matter what federal authorities are trying to do, we can put forward a model of law enforcement policy that shows you can be pro-immigrant and pro-law enforcement,” he said.
Immigrant advocates welcomed the news, saying it was a important step in immigrant and police relations. However, the rule does have some caveats or exceptions in which local law enforcement may assist federal immigration operations.
ICE was highly critical of the move, saying in a statement that it would undermine public safety and hinder the agency from carrying out its mission.
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“Ultimately, 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 NJ Attorney General is charged with protecting," said Matthew Albence, deputy director of ICE.
Immigrant trust directive
The new rules, laid out in the “Immigrant Trust Directive,” include the following requirements:
- Local police can’t stop, question, arrest, search or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status. They can’t ask immigration status, unless it’s necessary for an ongoing investigation of a serious offense.
- Local law enforcement officers will be barred from participating in immigration raids or operations.
- State or localagencies cannot hold a person arrested for a minor criminal offense past the time of release at the request of ICE and prohibits notification to ICE of such an individual’s release. But there are exceptions. Officers can notify ICE in the case of a serious or violent offense, if the person has a final deportation order signed by a judge, or if he or she has been charged in the last five years in an indictable offense. In these cases, reporting is voluntary.
- Local law enforcement cannot renew or enter into certain agreements with federal authorities, under which state and local agencies are deputized to enforce federal civil immigration laws, without prior approval from the attorney general. These controversial agreements have triggered protests in some counties and led Hudson County to end its agreement in March. Monmouth, Salem and Cape May counties currently have such agreements in place.
- Officers cannot allow ICE to interview an individual arrested on a criminal charge unless that person is advised of his or her right to a lawyer.
- Prosecutors cannot attack a witness’ credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status and cannot seek pretrial detention based on immigration status.
The directive calls for the Division of Criminal Justice to develop a training program within 30 days to explain the requirements of the directive to law enforcement agencies and officers. It will apply to local, county and state police officers, correctional officers and prosecutors.
All law enforcement agencies in New Jersey are required to establish policies and procedures to implement the directive and train officers in requirements. It takes effect March 15.
New Jersey released videos in 10 languages online explaining the directive and reassuring people that local police will not detain them over immigration status and that their duties are separate from that of ICE.
Grewal rejected the notion that New Jersey would be any less safe because of the directive. Flanked by police chiefs and prosecutors, he said New Jersey residents would in fact be more secure because people would be more willing to report crimes, appear in court or serve as witnesses on a local level.
Police leaders and immigration advocates, too, said they believed people were hesitant to call cops if they had witnessed or been victims to crimes.
ICE said it would conduct more at-large arrests in neighborhoods and work sites, if it was unable to focus on arrests at jails and prisons for transfers into their custody.
The directive comes amid a federal crackdown on illegal immigration and on immigration violations under President Donald Trump. During the Obama administration, ICE agents were told to prioritize their efforts on undocumented immigrants with serious criminal histories. Trump has widened the focus of immigration enforcement, instructing ICE to arrest any undocumented immigrant its agents encountered.
ICE arrests of undocumented immigrants rose 41 percent last year compared to 2016, the agency reported.In New Jersey, ICE's Newark office reported that its officers arrested 3,189 people in fiscal year 2017, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.
A November report by New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think tank, showed a steep increase in immigration enforcement in New Jersey. The report found that ICE detainers – requests of local law enforcement to hold individuals in detention for an additional 48 hours – increased nearly 88 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Local officials complied with federal requests to hold individuals for federal immigration purposes 63 percent of the time, according to the report.
“We are limiting the types of voluntary assistance we provide to federal civil immigration authorities," Grewal said of the new state initiative. "In doing so, we are telling our state law enforcement agencies to focus their resources on their core priorities, such as solving crimes and protecting the public rather than advancing Washington’s immigration agenda.”
The directive comes two weeks after ICE blasted authorities in Middlesex County who released a man in custody despite an ICE request to hold the person past his date of release. The man, Luis Rodrigo Perez, had been in custody over domestic violence charges. Earlier this month,he was arrested and charged with three murders in Missouri.
In that case, Middlesex County officials said ICE took no action while Perez was in their custody, and that county policy bars them from holding people past their release date if they haven’t been previously convicted of a first- or second-degree offense or been the subject of a previous order of deportation.
Critics have decried the crackdown by federal authorities that has led ICE to deport not only undocumented immigrants, but also legal residents believed to have committed immigration violations. In New Jersey, many immigrant advocates have called for the state to strengthen its policies around immigration enforcement.
Some immigrant advocates expressed concerns about the broad exceptions for complying with ICE detainers. But overall, they expressed strong support for the measure.
“I think it will send a strong and public message to the federal government that New Jersey is an immigrant-welcoming state and that local law enforcement should not be assisting in immigration enforcement and they’re on their own,” said Chia-Chia Wang, the director of organizing and advocacy at the American Friends Service Committee.
"It sends a strong message and provides really clear protection for folks who may get stopped for a traffic offense or for calling police about a domestic violence incident, " said Lauren Herman, supervising attorney for Make the Road NJ.