State limits local law enforcement participation in federal immigration actions

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced this week that local law enforcement cannot participate in federal immigration actions, a move intended to strengthen the immigrant community’s trust in police.

Under the new rules, a New Jersey police officer cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain someone simply because the officer thinks the person might be undocumented. Officers also cannot ask about a person’s immigration status, unless that information pertains to a specific criminal investigation.

“One of the purposes of the new rules is to ensure that all New Jersey residents, including immigrants, feel safe interacting with state and local police officers,” Grewal’s office said. “These rules ensure that victims and witnesses can report crimes to law enforcement without fear that they will be turned over to federal immigration authorities.”

What’s changing

Under the new rules, state, county and local police officers also cannot participate in federal immigration raids or operations; Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents cannot access any state or local law enforcement equipment, databases or other resources; ICE agents cannot interview suspects arrested on criminal charges without a lawyer first advising them of their rights; local agencies cannot hold for ICE a suspect arrested for a minor offense past the time of release, nor notify ICE of the suspect’s release; and prosecutors cannot seek pretrial detention based on immigration status, nor attack a witness’ credibility at trial based on immigration status.

To read the full directive, click here.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton offers immigration services in several programs, including El Centro, Community Services and Parish Services, in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties. Catholic Charities USA also has been very active on immigration issues, from family reunification advocacy to helping refugees and migrants along the U.S. border.

Marlene Laó-Collins, Catholic Charities’ executive director (pictured, left), applauded the new state directive.

“First, it’s important to know that this directive will in no way prohibit local or state law enforcement officials to continue important collaboration with federal officials to crack down on organized crime, violent criminals, gang, drug kingpins, human traffickers, and other criminal offenders,” Laó-Collins said. “But it will reinforce strong relationships with local law enforcement officials, an important component for creating safe, vibrant communities. For example, children and their parents can feel safe about going to school officials, or agencies like ours, to report recruitment efforts by local street gangs, without fear of putting themselves at risk for deportation.”

Immigration trends

The new mandate comes at a time when deportation orders are at a record high, reaching nearly 288,000 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to a Syracuse University study. That’s the highest since the university started tracking deportation filings in 1992.

Nearly one in five New Jerseyans is an immigrant, according to the American Immigration Council. Six states – including New Jersey – are home to 58 percent of the 10.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, which estimated in 2016 that about 500,000 undocumented immigrants live in the Garden State.

Grewal announced the new rules Thursday at a news conference at Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

“We want people to report crimes without fear of being deported. We want them to come and testify without being fearful that an ICE officer is waiting for them to remove them. We want them to be able to have a conversation on the street without fear that something untoward will happen to them from a state law enforcement officer,” Grewal said. “This is to build trust. Trust is good for public safety. It’s good for the safety of all New Jerseyans.”

Still, he warned, “if you break the law in New Jersey, we will go after you, no matter your immigration status. No one gets a free pass.”

For help

For immigration services, call our Access, Help and Information Center at 1-800-360-7711.

For more information: Dana DiFilippo, communications, (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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