BERKELEY – Township officials said they would support and join a lawsuit the county will file against the state regarding how police officers interact with suspected undocumented immigrants.
Local officials said that the state’s new rules are preventing them from doing their jobs and leave them open to retaliation from the state if they break the new rules. The state has responded that the local officials don’t need to change what they are doing and that the lawsuit is unneeded.
The State Attorney General issued an Immigrant Trust Directive at the end of last year that law enforcement agencies must not ask about residency status unless it is relevant to the crime being investigated.
The reason for this Directive is that, in order for police to do their jobs properly, they have to be trusted by the public. An undocumented immigrant who witnessed a crime or is the victim of a crime is less likely to report it to police if they fear deportation, according to the Attorney General’s office.
“This fear makes it more difficult for officers to solve crimes and bring suspects to justice, putting all New Jerseyans at risk,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wrote in the directive. “To be clear, nothing in this new Directive limits New Jersey law enforcement agencies or
officers from enforcing state law – and nothing in this Directive should be read to imply that
New Jersey provides “sanctuary” to those who commit crimes in this state. Any person who violates New Jersey’s criminal laws can and will be held accountable for their actions, no matter their immigration status. Similarly, nothing in this Directive restricts New Jersey law enforcement agencies or officers from complying with the requirements of Federal law or valid court orders, including judicially-issued arrest warrants for individuals, regardless of immigration status.”
Basically, the directive states that local law enforcement shouldn’t be asking about residency or helping ICE just for the purposes of immigration enforcement. They must work with ICE, however, for violent or sexual crimes such as:
- Any first or second degree offense, as defined in N.J.S.A 2C:43-1;
- Any indictable domestic violence offense defined in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19;
- A list of other crimes such as assault, endangering the welfare of children, burglary, witness tampering, eluding, stalking, and more.
At a recent meeting, the Ocean County Freeholders authorized the county attorney to move forward on a federal suit against the state, an official said. If successful, the lawsuit would enable the county to continue following federal guidelines. There is no timeline yet on the lawsuit, as the attorney still needs to prepare the complaint.
The Berkeley Township Council passed a resolution authorizing the township attorney to join in this lawsuit.
“Under the Directive, local, county and state law enforcement personnel are ordered not to stop, search or detain immigrants at the request of ICE, except in cases of serious or violent crimes, or final deportation orders,” the resolution reads. “Several local Ocean County departments, such as the Ocean County Jail, have continued to provide information to ICE despite the Directive, leaving them susceptible to reprimand from the State.”
Currently, when an inmate is brought into the Ocean County Jail, they are interviewed about their country of origin and where they are born. If there are any red flags, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is notified. It is then up to the discretion of ICE whether they want to interview the suspect about their residency status.
State: No Change Needed
The State Attorney General’s office, when reached for comment by this newspaper, stated that there is nothing in the directive that says the county cannot continue working with ICE in the way that it has been.
“Nothing in the Directive restricts officers from complying with the requirements of
federal law, including 8 U.S.C. § 1373,” read a statement from Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office.