More than a year after New Jersey voters elected a governor who campaigned on a platform of protecting the state's immigrant residents, including those in the country illegally, the state's top prosecutor released a list of rules governing cooperation by state and local police with federal immigration authorities.

The new rules prevent cops from quizzing people about their immigration status unless relevant to an investigation and limits cooperation by jails with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We are issuing new rules that draw a bright line between federal civil immigration authorities on the one hand and state and local law enforcement officers on the other,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. “And we’re telling our friends and our neighbors who have been living in fear: You can trust state law enforcement. You can trust state prosecutors here in New Jersey.”

“Nothing in this directive provides sanctuary to those who commit crimes in New Jersey. If you break the law in New Jersey, if you assault someone, if you rob someone, if you defraud someone, we will hold you accountable no matter your immigration status. If you break the law in New Jersey, we will go after you, no matter your immigration status. No one gets a free pass.”

The rules prevent jails from holding inmates indefinitely on behalf of ICE, which has publicly shamed jails in the state for failing to detain inmates to ICE's satisfaction. Federal authorities this month blamed the Middlesex County Jail for releasing an inmate who was wanted by ICE for deportation proceedings and who later was charged with killing three people in Missouri.

The new policy was endorsed by prosecutors and activists, but not by the feds.

ICE said the directive will create severe challenges and leave it with no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites, which it said will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests and won’t be as safe as arrests at jails and prisons.

“The New Jersey attorney general’s decision to further limit law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with ICE undermines public safety and hinders ICE from performing its federally mandated mission,” said Matthew Albence, deputy director of ICE.

“Ultimately, this directive shields certain criminal aliens, creating a state-sanctioned haven for those seeking to evade federal authorities, all at the expense of the safety and security of the very people the NJ attorney general is charged with protecting,” Albence said.

The directive replaces rules in place since 2007 that required police to ask suspects in felony cases about their immigration status but barred them from inquiring about the immigration status of witnesses and victims.

The new directive, called the Immigrant Trust Directive, says police:

— Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status;

— Cannot 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;

— Cannot participate in civil immigration enforcement operations conducted by ICE;

— Cannot 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;

— Cannot allow ICE to interview an individual arrested on a criminal charge unless that person is advised of his or her right to a lawyer.

Among the exceptions and exclusions:

— 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.

The new directive prohibits New Jersey law enforcement agencies from entering or renewing Section 287(g) agreements with federal authorities, under which state and local agencies are deputized to enforce federal civil immigration laws, unless the Attorney General grants written approval or the agreement is necessary in response to threats arising from a declared state or national emergency. There currently are less than five agencies in New Jersey with active 287(g) agreements. The directive does not impact contracts entered by ICE with county jails to house individuals detained for federal civil immigration violations; the decision to enter into such contracts is a county government decision.

The directive prohibits police and correction officers from continuing to hold a detained individual arrested for a minor criminal offense past the time he or she would otherwise be released from custody simply because ICE has submitted an immigration detainer request signed by an ICE officer, and prohibits notification to ICE of such an individual’s upcoming 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, but may continue to detain the individual only until 11:59 p.m. that day.

The directive prohibits New Jersey authorities 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.

In addition, 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.

Under the directive, New Jersey’s prosecutors cannot seek pretrial detention of an individual based solely on his or her immigration status, and generally cannot attack a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.

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, the effective date of the directive.

All county prosecutors are required to conduct outreach to educate the public about the directive, with a specific goal of strengthening trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. State, county and local law enforcement agencies shall report annually on any instances in which they provide assistance to federal civil immigration authorities, and the Attorney General’s Office shall post online an annual consolidated report including such information from local and county agencies compiled by the County Prosecutors and information submitted by the State Police and other State law enforcement agencies.

Surrounded by law enforcement, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Veronica Allende and Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly hold press conference on a new directive issuing new rules to New Jersey’s 36,000+ officers to help strengthen community trust for law enforcement, while at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. (Office of the Attorney General / Tim Larsen)
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and law enforcement officials announce new directive on immigration and law enforcement. (Office of the Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

“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,” Grewal said. "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.”

Prosecutors and law enforcement leaders in Camden, Essex, Mercer and Hudson counties applauded the directive, as did the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It’s a pro-immigrant directive and a pro-law enforcement directive. I think that’s so important: That folks trust us, talk to us, make our communities safer, help our cops solve crime, help our cops be friends to communities that don’t think they have friends," Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly said.

“This directive will let both victims and witnesses in our immigrant communities know that they can trust and cooperate with our officers to make all communities safer,” Camden County Prosecutor Mary Eva Colalillo said.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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