A new directive setting forth rules for when New Jersey law enforcement agencies should cooperate with federal immigration officials is expected to be issued by early December.

The current directive, issued in 2007, and recent increases in enforcement actions by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency were the subject of a critical report issued Tuesday by groups who say current practices are costly, vague and need to end now.

“ICE holds are requests that at best are based on a hunch. At their worst, they’re a smoke screen for racial profiling. Either way, they carry no legal weight,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

“When local jurisdictions have been sued, they have lost. And we the taxpayers have been the ones on the hook,” Sinha said. “To hold people, ICE needs legally binding warrants signed by a judge. That’s not what ICE is sending out.”

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said he agrees “wholeheartedly” with the report’s assessment of the 2007 directive. He said a new directive will be issued in two to three weeks. The change follows through on a Gov. Phil Murphy campaign promise to see New Jersey become a "sanctuary state."

“A 2007 immigration directive can’t reflect the immigration realities of 2018,” Grewal said.

“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,” he said.

Grewal said he wouldn’t preview what will be the new directive.

Advocacy groups that supported the new report, which was written by New Jersey Policy Perspective, said the new directive should rescind the 2007 one, require police not to cooperate with immigration detainers and end programs in which some agencies are deputized to help enforce immigration law.

“We hope that there should be a clear line between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement,” said Chia-Chia Wang, organizing and advocacy director for the American Friends Service Committee in Newark.

The NJPP report says the number of ICE detainers in New Jersey increased by 87.5 percent between 2016 and 2017, compared to 40 percent nationally. It said New Jersey voluntarily honored 63 percent of those detainer requests, compared with 54 percent nationally.

The report said that because ICE doesn’t pay for those detentions, New Jersey taxpayers do. If the detentions lasted the legally allowed 48 hours, the cost would be around $12 million. NJPP says the detentions last longer than that in more than 90 percent of cases – averaging 24 days, translating to a cost of $139 million since 2003.

Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said New Jersey has the nation’s third-largest percentage of foreign-born residents and the nation’s fifth-largest percentage of undocumented immigrants.

“Our populations are directly impacted by how our state decides to interact with an agency that we have known now for a long time continues to act without honoring the Constitution and the civil rights of people,” Calle said.

“A new directive that reigns in how and when local law enforcement interacts with ICE has the potential to make New Jersey safer for all by restoring trust and cooperation with law enforcement in immigrant communities,” said Erika Nava, the NJPP policy analyst who wrote the report.

The report and pending directive come on the heels of ICE recently criticizing New Jersey, and in particular Middlesex County, for not honoring an immigration detainer it had requested in December for an undocumented immigrant who has since been charged with three murders in Missouri.

Middlesex County declined because its policy is to honor detainer requests if the inmate has previously been convicted of a first- or second-degree offense or was the subject of a final order of deportation signed by a federal judge.

During the 51 days Mexican national Luis Perez was held before his February release, ICE didn’t obtain an order of deportation from a federal judge.

“Obviously that’s an awful tragedy. It is unfair to isolate this case and generalize it to the whole population,” Nava said. “… I just think it’s unfair to just generalize and try to correlate crime with ethnicity. I think that’s racist, and it’s unfair to do so.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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