Stop calling New Jersey a sanctuary state, attorney general says
New Jersey is not a sanctuary state, according to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who also said that local cops will not be doing the feds' work on immigration enforcement.
That was the message the state’s top law enforcement official repeated Friday when he announced that all local law enforcement agencies in the state would be banned from signing cooperation agreements with federal immigration authorities.
The pronouncement was a complete disavowal of language used by Gov. Phil Murphy during his campaign for governor, when he said during a debate that “if need be, we will be a sanctuary not just city but state.”
After winning his election against former Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who used Murphy’s words in campaign ads against him, Murphy pulled back on the term, calling it an unenlightened “buzzword.” But it’s a buzzword that immigration hardliners and supporters of President Donald Trump have continued to level at the administration.
“Critics like to claim that we are providing quote — sanctuary — to dangerous criminals. Nothing could be further from the truth," Grewal said Friday, using some of the clearest language to date to refute critics of the policy. "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.”
“This notion of sanctuary is a complete red herring and it’s a false narrative being put out there,” he said. “To suggest that we are somehow giving anyone a free pass is nothing but a politically convenient statement to make in the current environment.”
Grewal’s statement comes nearly a year after he implemented his office’s Immigrant Trust Directive, which on Friday he said drew a “clear, bright line between our state’s law enforcement officers on the one hand, who enforce our state’s criminal laws, and federal civil immigration officers on the other who enforce the country’s immigration laws.”
The directive limited local law enforcement cooperation with ICE. Cops are not supposed to question people about their immigration status unless it’s relevant to an investigation. Jails are only supposed to inform ICE about someone in detention if they have been charged with serious, violent offenses such as murder, rape, arson, assault, bias crimes and certain domestic violence offenses.
On Friday, Grewal updated the directive to expand the list of crimes to include weapons and more domestic violence offenses.
He also banned the 287(g) agreements, named after the section of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act that Grewal said “deputizes” local officials to enforce civil immigration laws. Only the Cape May and Monmouth county sheriff’s offices, both run by elected Republican sheriffs, maintained such agreements.
Grewal said the agreements were “redundant” because the state’s Immigrant Trust Directive already allows jails to notify ICE and hold defendants and inmates for ICE. But more importantly, Grewal said the agreements undermine public safety.
Prosecutors and police officials say that immigrant communities need to be able to call police and cooperate with investigations and prosecutions when they are victims or witnesses of crimes. They will be reluctant to do so if they fear that cops will turn them into ICE.
Such fear became a factor in the search for 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, an American citizen in Bridgeton who police believe may have been abducted from a park on Sept. 16. Officials and the girl's family went before news cameras to beseech people who may have any information about the girl's disappearance to come forward without fear of being asked about their immigration status.
“Based on a number of events and experiences, we know that doubt still exists despite our best efforts, particularly in this moment where there is overzealous enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” Grewal said. “Our job here is to enforce our state’s criminal laws. Their job is to enforce federal immigration laws. They should do their jobs; we’ll do our jobs.”
The directive is facing a legal challenge in federal court by Ocean County’s Republican-controlled Board of Freeholders. A handful of municipalities have passed resolutions supporting the the lawsuit.
A day before Grewal's announcement in Newark, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Matthew T. Albence criticized local jurisdictions for not honoring what are known as ICE detainers — requests by the agency that local jails hold onto individuals until ICE agents can pick them up.
ICE faulted the jails in Middlesex and Cumberland counties for releasing a man charged with raping a teenager and two men charged in domestic violence incidents. ICE agents arrested 54 other individuals in the state who had been released from custody.
New Jersey law allows most defendants in criminal cases to be released from jail pending trial with certain conditions. In fewer cases, judges will keep defendants who are considered a potential danger to the public behind bars until their trials. The rules replace the state’s previous bail system.
Grewal compared ICE’s state roundup of 54 people in a week to the 2,400 people arrested on average in New Jersey, and suggested that ICE wasn’t doing its job.
“In the most dangerous cases with the most dangerous individuals, we provide that notice to immigration authorities and so if they are not picking up people, it’s on them. But don’t point the finger at any of us because we work too hard to improve public safety in this state."
It is not clear why ICE was not able to pick up the three men from the Middlesex and Cumberland prisons before their release.
Grewal added that “critics also like to claim that we’re releasing dangerous criminals back into the street, that we need these agreements with ICE to stop this from happening. That is flat out wrong. And those who say or suggest otherwise are either mistaken or deliberately misleading the public.”
“The Immigrant Trust Directive explicitly allows county jails to identify the most violent and most serious offenders, including those charged with rape, murder, arson, robbery and other serious offenses, and to provide their information to federal authorities,” he said. “And if a judge grants bail and decides to release one of those individuals, or if one of those individuals finishes their jail sentence, our directive allows those jails to continue holding those individuals for a period of time to ensure they are properly transferred to federal custody.”
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden on Friday said the new directive ignores federal and state laws.
"Law enforcement throughout Monmouth County never wants to be faced with a situation where a dangerous, undocumented immigrant is released from jail and poses a threat to a community," he said. "However, this sanctuary directive will make our communities less safe, since it places people in those communities at risk for increased violence."
Golden did not respond to written follow-up questions asking which laws he believed the directive was breaking and to explain why he did not think that the state’s Immigrant Trust Directive would allow his jail to continue to notify ICE and hold individuals for ICE detention.
Grewal said the two counties had seven days to end their ICE agreements. It was not clear Friday whether the sheriffs intended to challenge the new directive in court.
“The longer we have this debate, the longer we have this conversation about the need for these 287(g) agreements, the longer that we irresponsibly use the term sanctuary state or city, particularly in New Jersey, the more confusion we create,” Grewal said. “I think all of us — all of us in law enforcement, all of you in the media — have a responsibility to correct that because it is a complete fabrication and misleading statement to suggest that New Jersey in any way is a sanctuary state. Period. Not the case.”
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.