Cape May County sheriff sues NJ over immigration ‘interference’
New Jersey faces a second federal lawsuit challenging its statewide Immigrant Trust Directive, as Cape May County officials call the policy a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In the federal complaint filed Oct. 15 in U.S. District Court in Camden, Cape May County Sheriff Robert Nolan said the directive is "intentional interference" by state Attorney General Grubir Grewal, which Nolan said impedes his ability to do his job and keep county residents safe.
In the same federal complaint, Cape May County officials said the directive'srestrictions on cooperating with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement — including a late September order by Grewal for Cape May and Monmouth Counties to "wind down" contracts that let their jail officers act with the authority of immigraiton agents — are invalid under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause.
The federal complaint said Sheriff Nolan renewed the agreement to "protect the residents of Cape May from dangerous individuals who commit violent acts against residents of our community."
In addressing concerns about the contracts, known as 287(g) agreements, Grewal last month said his directive still allows jails to inform ICE about defendants charged with serious, violent crimes and notify ICE about their expected release.
In September, Ocean County filed its own federal lawsuit against the state, calling the Immigrant Trust Directive "unconstitutional."
The directive, outlined by Grewal last November before going into effect in March, limits voluntary assistance between law enforcement officers and federal immigration authorities, including ICE agents.
Among the directive's restrictions: Local authorities can't stop, arrest, question or search someone only based on immigration status. They can't ask for the immigration status of any individual, unless it's relevant to the investigation of a serious crime. They can't participate in civil immigration enforcement by ICE. They can't provide ICE with access to law enforcement resources unless those same resources are generally available to the public. And they can't allow ICE to interview an individual arrested on a criminal charge, unless that person is advised of his or her right to a lawyer.
But it also notes that local authorities can assist federal immigration authorities in emergency circumstances, and allows for joint task forces, provided they're not related to federal civil immigration enforcement. The directive doesn't stop local authorities from asking someone for proof of identity if it's legally justified as part of an investigation.
Grewal has recently pointed to the ongoing search for 5-year-old Dulce Alavez as an example of the need for rules that build trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement. He argues local police have a harder time doing their jobs when immigrants are afraid to cooperate with investigations into dangers in their communities.
The Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously backed a resolution Aug. 30, supporting Ocean County’s lawsuit, while Sussex County is seeking a non-binding voter referendum on the issue.
By August, at least 10 municipalities within Ocean County had shown support for the federal lawsuit even before it was filed. Local elected officials in Jackson, Lavallette, Plumsted, Long Beach, Bay Head, Ocean, Lacey, Barnegat, Stafford and Berkeley all passed official resolutions, according to assistant Ocean County Administrator Michael Fiure.
Other communities have gone on record against New Jersey becoming a "sanctuary state," with resolutions passed in Parsippany-Troy Hills, Freehold Township, Jackson and Berkeley Township (Ocean County). Gov. Phil Murphy had, during the campaign, said if "need be, we will be a sanctuary not just city but state.” But he's since stopped using the term, and Grewal repeatedly has said critics who say the directive provides "sanctuary" to dangerous criminals are wrong and are pushing a "false narrative."
"Under our Immigrant Trust Directive, if you break the law you go to jail regardless of your immigration status. No one — I repeat, no one — gets a free pass in this state to commit crime,” Grewal said at a Sept. 27 news conference.
With previous reporting by Sergio Bichao
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