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By Kelly Heyboer | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com | Posted November 29, 2018 at 01:49 PM | Updated November 29, 2018 at 04:45 PM
New Jersey’s attorney general unveiled a broad new directive Thursday limiting when local police can ask someone’s immigration status and turn unauthorized immigrants over to federal officials for deportation.
Standing in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the new rules — called the Immigrant Trust Directive — are designed to improve relations between local police and immigrant communities.
The new rules will draw “a bright line” between federal immigration officials and local police at a time when immigrants are growing more fearful of deportation and federal crackdowns on illegal immigration, Grewal said.
“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 from this country,” Grewal said.
Officials with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency slammed the attorney general for rules they say will hinder ICE and undermine public safety.
“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 New Jersey Attorney General is charged with protecting,” said Matthew Albence, an ICE deputy director.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration reached out to immigration groups and local police to rewrite the guidelines soon after the Democrat’s election. Murphy stated during the campaign he would consider making New Jersey a “sanctuary state” to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Grewal said the new directive does not make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” for criminals.
“If you break the law in New Jersey we will go after you no matter your immigration status,” Grewal said.
What are the new rules?
The new guidelines limit when state, county and local police officers can assist federal immigration authorities, the attorney general said.
Among the rules in the Immigrant Trust Directive:
- New Jersey police officers can not stop, question, arrest, search or detain any individual based solely on their suspected immigration status.
- Law enforcement officials can not ask the immigration status of anyone unless it is part of an ongoing investigation of a serious offense.
- No officer in New Jersey can participate in ICE immigration raids or operations.
- ICE can’t access any state or local law enforcement equipment, databases or other resources.
- ICE can’t interview anyone arrested on criminal charges unless suspects are advised of their rights by their lawyers.
Can ICE still operate in New Jersey?
Nothing in the new directive stops police in New Jersey from complying with federal law or court orders, including those for unauthorized immigrants, Grewal said.
Police can also assist immigration authorities in emergencies and work with ICE on joint task forces, according to the directive.
Local counties, including Essex and Bergen counties, can continue to sign deals with ICE to house detainees in county jails. Those deals have brought in millions of dollars each year for the county governments.
Entering into those contracts with ICE is a county decision and does not fall under the new directive, Grewal said.
What were N.J.’s old rules?
The attorney general’s new guidelines replace the Milgram Directive, a set of rules then-Attorney General Anne Milgram issued to local police officers in 2007.
Both immigration advocates and law enforcement officials have long complained Milgram’s guidelines were confusing and interpreted in different ways by different police departments.
The rules said local police could ask about suspects’ immigration status — and inform ICE if they were living in the country illegally — if the suspect was charged with a felony or drunk driving. But suspects charged in lesser crimes should not be turned over to federal immigration officials, the guidelines said.
Local police were also told not to ask the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or anyone else who went to the police for assistance, according to the rules.
Growing tensions with ICE
The attorney general’s new guidelines come as ICE arrests have been rising in New Jersey.
In fiscal year 2017, there were 3,189 arrests in New Jersey by ICE, a 42 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to federal data.
However, ICE has clashed with some New Jersey counties about when and if they honor requests to hold immigrants living in the country illegally in county jails on “detainers” until federal immigration officials can pick them up.
In July, ICE officials slammed Middlesex County for its policy of only holding prisoners on ICE detainers if they are accused of serious crimes.
“Middlesex County, which aspires to be a ‘sanctuary county’ by protecting criminal aliens, in the process assists criminals in undermining federal law, and creates a dangerous environment in the community,” Ruben Perez, acting field office director of Enforcement and Removal Operations in ICE’s Newark office, said in July.
Middlesex County officials have said they are following their county policy and ICE officials can ask a federal judge for an order to detail inmates.
The attorney general’s new directive limits when county jails can honor detainers for ICE, but does not forbid them, Grewal said.
More than a dozen law enforcement officials stood behind Grewal as he announced the new directive at the press conference in Jersey City.
Representatives of several immigrant rights and civil rights groups also attended to express their support for the new guidelines.
Many of the groups were consulted on what they would like the new rules to say and how the message can be communicated to immigrant communities.
“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 Alexander Shalom, senior supervising attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “Because of this directive, everyone in our state can feel more secure in their rights and safer in their communities.”
Grewal plans to attend two community events in Paterson Thursday evening to begin rolling out the new guidelines in immigrant communities.
The attorney general will be in Paterson at the New Roberto Clemente School at 6 p.m. and Dr. Hani Awadallah School at 7:30 p.m.
He will be joined by Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes and Paterson Police Chief Troy Oswald to discuss the Immigrant Trust Directive and any concern from the immigrant community.
The state Attorney General’s office has created videos in multiple languages to explain the Immigrant Trust Directive to immigrant communities.
The videos in Spanish, Hindi, Creole, Portuguese, Korean and other languages feature local and state police officers explaining the directive in their native languages.
(Huntsville Times file photo)
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