JACKSON – The Township Council passed a resolution supporting the county’s lawsuit against the state regarding how jail employees are to operate with immigration enforcement. The state, meanwhile, says the county doesn’t have to change anything.
The crux of the issue is what information jail officials are allowed to ask inmates, and what information they would then provide to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Currently, when an inmate is brought into the Ocean County Jail, they are interviewed about their country of origin and where they are born, a county official said. 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.
County officials have stated that they feel they are stuck between two regulations: federal law and a state directive. Federal generally supersedes state, but they don’t want to have any repercussions for not following the state.
The county filed a lawsuit against the state to allow them to continue following federal guidelines.
The Jackson Township Council threw their support in with the county at their most recent meeting. A few members of the council lamented that the issue needed to be discussed at all, stating that when jail employees cooperate with ICE it should be understood as being in the best interest of everyone.
The also highlighted language in the resolution: “The Directive has led to increased concerns by governmental entities and police forces due to the lack of information sharing and cooperation with ICE.”
Councilman Alex Sauickie III spoke about how he agreed with the county’s lawsuit. He said he was in lower Manhattan after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. A lack of information led to those attacks.
The 9/11 Commission Report from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States says that there was a lack of information being shared that might have allowed American intelligence to learn about the plot before it happened. The Commission noted that it studied the attacks with the benefit of hindsight, and did not cast blame on officials who were doing their best under the conditions they found themselves.
Why The Immigration Rules Changed
The State Attorney General issued a 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:
The directive also states that law enforcement can no longer keep an office for ICE, and the county is complying with that, a county official said. The ICE officer has worked remotely in the past, so there is really little difference.
The county will continue to operate as they have been until the lawsuit comes to fruition, he said. They will still question suspects about their nation of origin and report suspicions to ICE.
State: No Lawsuit 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.
After the meeting, a reporter from The Jackson Times informed council members of the state’s comments. Sauickie said that even if the state says there’s nothing to change, it’s still prudent to support the county in this measure, and add its weight to the lawsuit.
Previously, Berkeley Township’s governing body also said they would support and join the lawsuit at the July Township Council meeting.
“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,” Berkeley’s resolution supporting the lawsuit 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.”