New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Thursday ordered county sheriffs to ignore ICE detainers if a local judge orders the release of a suspected illegal immigrant who’s been charged with a crime.
Grewal also prohibited police and jail operators from holding a detainee arrested for a minor crime “past the time he or she would otherwise be released from custody simply because ICE has submitted an immigration detainer.”
Not only that, he forbade them from even notifying ICE of their release.
“With respect to detainees charged with violent or serious offenses – such as murder, rape, arson, assault, bias crimes, and domestic violence offenses – New Jersey law enforcement and correction officials may notify ICE of the detainee’s upcoming release,” Grewal added, “but [they] may continue to detain the individual only until 11:59 p.m. that day.”
The attorney general said he was also forbidding sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies “from providing U.S. immigration authorities with access to a detained individual for an interview, unless the individual signs a written consent form that explains the purpose of the interview, that the individual may decline the interview, and that he or she may have legal counsel present.”
The new rules – delivered Thursday by Grewal at the railroad concourse at Liberty State Park in Jersey City -- were part of a sweeping directive to all local, county and state police agencies to steer as clear as possible of federal immigration enforcement.
The rules – which officially will be put into effect in four months -- are “designed to strengthen trust between New Jersey law enforcement officers and the state’s diverse immigrant communities,” the attorney general said.
“Today’s directive is intended to draw a clear line between the responsibility of New Jersey’s 36,000 law enforcement officers to enforce state criminal laws and the responsibility of federal immigration authorities to enforce federal civil immigration law,” said Grewal, a former Bergen County prosecutor who lives in Glen Rock.
“[It] applies to all state, county and local law enforcement agencies, including police, prosecutors, county detectives, sheriff’s officers, and correction officers, and seeks to ensure that immigrants feel safe reporting crimes to New Jersey law enforcement officers,” he said.
Known as the “Immigrant Trust Directive,” the order says that New Jersey’s law enforcement officers, except in certain circumstances cannot:
- Stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status;
- Ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation;
- Participate in civil immigration enforcement operations conducted by ICE;
- Provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property, unless those resources are readily available to the public;
- Allow ICE to interview an individual arrested on a criminal charge unless that person is advised of his or her right to a lawyer.
What’s more, the directive forbids prosecutors in New Jersey from seeking pretrial detention of a defendant based solely on his or her immigration status – or from attacking a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.
New Jersey's ACLU chapter enthusiastically welcomed the new rules.
“The family separations we’ve witnessed, both at the border and here in New Jersey, have led so many of us to question who we are as a nation," ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said. "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."
As part of Thursday’s announcement, Grewal’s office produced videos describing the directive in a dozen languages using New Jersey law enforcement officers who grew up speaking a different language at home: www.nj.gov/trust .
Grewal emphasized that nothing in the directive limits New Jersey law enforcement agencies from enforcing state law – and that nothing “should be read to imply that New Jersey provides ‘sanctuary’ to those who commit crimes in this state.
“Moreover, nothing restricts police from complying with federal law or valid court orders, including judicially-issued arrest warrants for individuals, regardless of immigration status,” he said.
The directive also “does not impact contracts entered by ICE with county jails to house individuals detained for federal civil immigration violations,” Grewal said. “The decision to enter into such contracts is a county government decision.”
“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,” the attorney said. “That fear makes it more difficult for officers to solve crimes and bring suspects to justice.
“These new rules are designed to draw a clear distinction between local police and federal civil immigration authorities, ensuring that victims and witnesses feel safe reporting crimes to New Jersey’s law enforcement officers.
“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.
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The directive includes a number of specific exceptions and exclusions, including among others:
- Nothing stops officers from assisting federal immigration authorities in response to emergency circumstances;
- Officers may participate with federal authorities in joint law enforcement task forces, “provided the primary purpose is unrelated to federal civil immigration enforcement”;
- Nothing in the directive prevents officers from requesting proof of identity from an individual “during the course of an arrest or when legally justified during an investigative stop or detention.”
We cannot allow the line between our law enforcement officers and U.S. immigration officials – or the line between state criminal law and federal civil immigration law – to become blurred,” said Veronica Allende, the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice.
“When that happens, we risk losing the trust that we have worked so hard to build with our immigrant communities, and we jeopardize public safety by reducing the effectiveness of our officers.
“When an immigrant sees a New Jersey police officer, that immigrant must know he or she can feel confident approaching that officer.”
In addition to the other rules, the directive notes that “all of New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies are required to develop procedures to assist victims and witnesses in applying for T-Visas and U-Visas, which provide legal protections for victims of human trafficking and other specified crimes who are cooperating with law enforcement investigations.”
The directive calls for the Division of Criminal Justice to develop a training program within 30 days, which shall be available online, “to explain the requirements of the directive to law enforcement agencies and officers.”
“All law enforcement agencies shall establish policies and procedures to implement the directive and shall have their officers trained regarding the requirements of the directive by March 15, 2019.”
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