New Jersey's attorney general announced new rules Thursday restricting how law enforcement officers across the state interact with federal immigration authorities.
The "Immigrant Trust Directive" limits the type of voluntary assistance that law enforcement agencies provide to immigration authorities, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The new rules are meant to strengthen the trust between law enforcement and immigrants in the state, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.
Flanked by police officers, including Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly, as well as Veronica Allende, the director of the Division of Criminal Justice at the Attorney General's Office, Grewal highlighted the Trump administration's crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
The White House's policies have "cultivated a culture of fear" that drives some of the state's "most vulnerable residents deeper into the shadows," Grewal said. Due to that fear, crimes go unreported and people refuse to testify at trials, allowing criminals to remain on the streets, the attorney general added.
New Jersey has one of the highest undocumented immigrant populations in the nation, with an estimated 500,000 people living without legal citizenship as of 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
The new rules, the attorney general said, will encourage immigrants to come forward when crimes are committed.
"With this directive, we hope to draw immigrants out of the shadows and into our communities. We hope to create an environment where residents feel safe around our officers, whether they're reporting a crime or simply striking up a conversation," he said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, however, condemned the new directive, saying it shields criminals and compromises the safety of communities.
"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," ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence said in a statement.
"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 added.
The agency also says that a lack of local cooperation will force it to conduct at-large arrests in neighborhoods and worksites, which will result in additional "collateral" arrests.
Officially known as Attorney General Directive 2018-6, the rules apply to all state, county and local law enforcement agencies, including police, prosecutors, county detectives, sheriff's officers, and correction officers.
Though Grewal emphasized that the new policies will not make New Jersey a so-called sanctuary state for undocumented individuals who commit crimes, the change does mimic actions by other cities and states that have moved to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents since President Donald Trump took office.
In California, lawmakers passed SB-54, known as the "California Values Act." Among other things, the California bill prevents local law enforcement officers from transferring people into ICE custody unless presented with a judicial warrant.
As part of the New Jersey directive, police departments and corrections officers will not be allowed to continue to hold those arrested for minor offenses past their original release dates, even if ICE submits an immigration detainer request.
However, officers must still comply with valid court orders, including warrants signed by federal judges.
"If you break the law in New Jersey, we will go after you no matter your immigration status. No one gets a free pass," Grewal said.
Agencies will still be allowed to notify ICE of inmates' pending release if they have committed a serious crime like murder, rape, arson, assault or domestic violence, but officers will only be allowed to keep those inmates in custody until 11:59 p.m. the day of their scheduled release.
Unless granted permission by the state attorney general, however, law enforcement agencies are also prevented from entering into or renewing Section 287(g) agreements with federal authorities, which allow state local agencies to enforce federal civil immigration laws.
Officers also cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain a person simply because they believe that person may be undocumented.
Officers are also barred from asking people about their immigration status unless doing so is necessary while investigating a serious crime, a change from a 2007 directive passed by then-Attorney General Anne Milgram.
That directive said that local law enforcement officials must ask about a person's immigration status if that person was arrested for serious crimes, and directed them to notify federal immigration officials about the person's status.
The new directive says ICE agents will also be prevented from questioning anyone who has been arrested unless that individual has signed a written document informing him or her that he or she has a right to a lawyer, nor will agents be allowed to use things like law enforcement equipment or office space unless they are also "readily available" to the public.
Immigrants' rights groups immediately hailed the attorney general's announcement as a positive development for local communities.
In a statement, Alexander Shalom, the supervising attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's New Jersey Branch, said, "Because of this directive, everyone in our state can feel more secure in their rights and safer in their communities."
The directive goes into effect March 15, 2019.