State attorney general to update police directive on enforcing immigration law

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Advocates say the half-million unauthorized immigrants that call New Jersey home feel deeply uncertain about interacting with police and the numbers confirm their fears. In the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, ICE not only ramped up arrests in New Jersey, it also increased by almost 88 percent requests for local police and county jails to detain unauthorized immigrants for 48 hours beyond their release date compared to a 40 percent increase nationally, according to a Syracuse University survey. To confuse matters even more, some Jersey jails comply and some don’t.

“These detainers and a lot of the requests that ICE puts together are not federally required, are not legally required. They’re all voluntary,” said Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “It creates this very inconsistent way of how law enforcement interacts with ICE, so that means that you could be living in one part of the state and have a completely different experience than in another part of the state.”

Police departments also have a lot of leeway in determining when, where and how they question individuals they suspect might be unauthorized under a state attorney general directive issued 11 years ago. Advocates have requested a new policy for how law enforcement should deal with possibly unauthorized immigrants — one that’s both detailed and comprehensive. New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal says it’s in the works.

“We’ll be issuing a new, revised directive to give our county prosecutors and state law enforcement better guidance on what their role is and isn’t when it comes to the enforcement of federal, civil immigration law,” said Grewal. “It’s a collaborative effort among stakeholders that we have law enforcement at the table in drafting this new directive. We have rights organizations, we have community representatives. It’ll be a collective effort to make sure we get it right.”

“We’re looking very carefully at that, in this current age of Trump, et cetera. We want to make sure we get this as precise and as right as possible,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.

A report released Tuesday by New Jersey Policy Perspective calculates over the past decade it’s cost New Jersey law enforcement at least $12 million to honor ICE detainer requests and hold immigrants in police facilities the two extra days. It’s a courtesy automatically extended by most New Jersey counties except for Union, Burlington, Ocean and Middlesex.

But ICE argues it’s a matter of public safety and points to cases like Luis Perez, an unauthorized immigrant recently accused of murdering three people in Missouri after Middlesex County refused to honor a detainer request from ICE and released him several months earlier.

“This tragedy might have been avoided had it not been for the reckless policy required of the Middlesex County Jail by their county officials,” said John Tsoukaris, the head of Newark’s ICE field office.

“ICE knows what they’re doing by putting out that story and peddling the worst possible cases out there. They do this all the time, and they’ve been targeting Middlesex because Middlesex put out a policy that limited their relationship,” said Calle, “It’s important for our governor and our attorney general to push back on that narrative, because we know it’s not true.”

Grewal said he expects to unveil a new directive in two to three weeks.