NJ ‘immigrant trust’ directive affecting number of deportations
NEWARK – The state directive limiting cooperation by New Jersey police agencies with federal enforcement of civil immigration violations slightly reduced the number of people going from jails to federal custody and deportation though isn’t being followed consistently, says a new report out of Rutgers Law School.
A study released at a Tuesday symposium said the number of removals of unauthorized immigrants through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was down slightly in 2020 for people with the most serious convictions and basically level for people without them.
There was a notable decline in removals through the Secure Communities fingerprint and biometric checks program, in which jails held and transferred inmates to ICE. That dropped 29% from 1,015 in 2018 to 711 in 2019, and the program was ended in early 2021 by President Joe Biden.
ICE has been issuing fewer detainer requests since the policy took effect. The number of detainers increased from 1,422 in 2016 to 2,666 in 2017 to 3,248 in 2018, then leveled off at 3,252 in 2019 before dropping to 1,844 in 2020, which was also the first year of the pandemic.
But the study finds many local law enforcement agencies haven’t adopted policies that comply with the directive; failed to meet a training deadline, maintain notification and consent forms for detainees or post information about helping noncitizen crime victims apply for visas; and continued sharing information with ICE.
“There has been a very widespread adoption of the directive. But it’s very incomplete throughout the state,” said Peter Mancina, a visiting scholar at Rutgers Law School’s Center for Immigration Law, Policy and Justice.
The report concludes that divergence “has led to agency practices potentially or clearly in violation of the directive” and says stronger oversight from the state is needed. It also says the directive should be rewritten because it can be undermined by exceptions allowing police to cooperate with ICE.
“While law enforcement agencies have made efforts to achieve the goals of the directive, there is much more that can be done for full implementation,” said Samantha Hing, a fellow at the center.
Then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued the directive in late 2018, and it took effect in March 2019. Revisions were made in October 2019. It limits the voluntary assistance that local police departments and county prosecutors and jails can provide to federal immigration agencies and limits when police officers can inquire about a person’s immigration status.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, sponsors a bill that would make the directive a state law and go a bit further.
“Much still needs to be done to ensure that we’re meeting the moment,” Mukherji said.
“What the Values Act would do is make one have to justify when there is any cooperation happening, so that there’s a little bit more transparency,” said Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
Mukherji said one of the lessons from last year’s closer-than-expected election is that important changes should be written into law while you have the chance.
“That it could not be rolled back by a new governor, by a new attorney general, that it’s not subject to the whim of any one person,” Mukherji said.
The number of removals of unauthorized immigrants with serious convictions was 804 in 2016, 1,009 in 2017, 1,269 in 2018 and 1,492 in 2019. It then dipped to 1,292 in 2020.
The number of removals of unauthorized immigrants without serious convictions leveled off but didn’t drop. Totals went from 450 in 2016 to 658 in 2018 to 1,227 in 2019 and 1,251 in 2020. There was no data for 2017.
To complete the report, researchers sought records including policies, incident reports and data from 610 agencies, of which 536 responded, including 416 that provided at least one record responsive to the request. Forty-one denied the request in its entirety – including the state Department of Corrections.
Some of the report’s recommendations cover ways to improve the state’s Open Public Records Act.