Two federal lawsuits challenging New Jersey's Immigrant Trust Directive have been bolstered by a new court filing by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The department led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr filed a brief Friday supporting Cape May County and Ocean County’s legal challenges to the directive that went into effect in March 2019, after being signed in November 2018.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have suddenly chosen to challenge New Jersey’s Immigrant Trust Directive in court over a year after it was issued," state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Saturday in a written statement.

"At a time when we need to be building bridges with our immigrant communities, the federal government is working to push them further into the shadows," Grewal also said.

He repeated that the intent of the directive has been to "protect public safety by ensuring that victims and witnesses come forward and report crimes to law enforcement without fear of deportation."

While critics and opponents of the directive have said it provides "sanctuary" to immigrants who are here illegally, Grewal has said that is simply not the case.

"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 September 2019 news conference.

"The federal government has every right to keep doing its job, but it has no right to stop our law enforcement officers from doing ours," Grewal said, while also adding "The federal government’s efforts to coerce states into implementing its immigration agenda have failed repeatedly in the past, and we’ll respond to their latest efforts in court at the appropriate time.”

The directive limits voluntary assistance between law enforcement officers and federal immigration authorities, including ICE agents. Among its restrictions:
- Law enforcement can't stop, arrest, question or search someone only based on immigration status.
- Law enforcement can't ask for the immigration status of any individual, unless it's relevant to the investigation
of a serious crime.
- Law enforcement can't participate in civil immigration enforcement by ICE.
- Law enforcement can't provide ICE with access to law enforcement resources, unless those same resources are
generally available to the public.
- Law enforcement can only allow ICE to interview an individual arrested on a criminal charge, once that person is
advised of his or her right to a lawyer.

Grewal's office also has pointed out the following:
- Nothing in the Directive limits the ability of law enforcement officers to enforce state criminal law.
- Nothing in the Directive restricts officers from complying with the requirements of federal law.
- Nothing in the Directive prevents officers from enforcing valid court orders, including search or arrest warrants
signed by state or federal judges.
- Nothing in the Directive "stops officers from assisting federal immigration authorities in response to exigent
circumstances."

Cape May County officials called the policy a violation of the U.S. Constitution, in a federal complaint filed in October 2019.

Cape May County Sheriff Robert Nolan said the directive is "intentional interference" by Grewal, which Nolan said impedes his ability to do his job and keep county residents safe.

Ocean County filed its own federal lawsuit in September 2019, calling the directive "unconstitutional, invalid and unenforceable."

That suit against Gov. Phil Murphy's administration claims the directive is super-ceded by federal regulations, as well as a violation of New Jersey's "home rule," which permits county and local governments to have control over local needs and functions.

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