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New Immigration Rules Taking Effect in NJ. Will ICE Push Back?

A new directive in New Jersey aims to help undocumented immigrants, but ICE threats pose a risk of the directive backfiring.

What to Know

  • A new directive to restrict local authorities' cooperation with ICE goes into effect Friday in New Jersey.
  • Among other things, the plan stops police departments from honoring ICE requests to keep people jailed beyond their scheduled release date.
  • Immigrants remain hopeful, but skeptical in the face of ICE threats to retaliate.

A new directive limiting local law enforcement's cooperation with federal immigration authorities is going into effect in New Jersey, but the feds are threatening to respond with even more immigration raids in the state. 

The "Immigrant Trust Directive," announced last year by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, aims to strengthen the trust between immigrants and local law enforcement in the state. Among other actions, the directive prevents police departments and corrections officers from honoring immigration authorities' requests to detain people beyond their scheduled date of release.

Yet, if threats coming from Immigration and Customs Enforcement are to be believed, the new guidelines could lead to more arrests by the federal agency. That could undermine the entire purpose of the attorney general's policy.


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ICE issued its warning shot almost immediately after Grewal announced the directive late last year.

"The probability is that at-large arrests and worksite enforcement operations, which already exist, will likely increase due to the fact that ICE ERO will no longer have the cooperation of the jails related to immigration enforcement," ICE spokesman Emilio Dabul wrote in a statement to NBC10. 

Jeffrey DeCristofaro, executive director of the Camden Center for Social Justice, said that while the immigrants his group works with are largely concerned about getting caught up during targeted enforcement operations — in which ICE is looking for a specific person — the threat of at-large raids is still real.

"You don't want to be the person that keeps someone from going about their daily life ... but my obligation is also to give them truthful information," DeCristofaro said.

The directive and ICE's response highlight a philosophical rift between federal immigration authorities and so-called sanctuary communities around the nation: to ICE, ridding communities of undocumented immigrants increases safety; to advocates, empowering these same undocumented immigrants to aid in criminal investigations is what makes communities safer.

ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence has said the directive "undermines public safety and hinders ICE from performing its federally-mandated mission."

Yet Grewal has argued the opposite, that a fear of harsh immigration policies drives people "into the shadows" and that his directive will draw them out and encourage them to cooperate with police.

Though the attorney general 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 do consider themselves sanctuaries and have moved to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents since President Donald Trump took office.

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.

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.

Furthermore, unless granted permission by the state attorney general, law enforcement agencies are prevented from entering into or renewing Section 287(g) agreements with federal authorities, which allow state local agencies to enforce federal civil immigration laws.

New Jersey currently has three agencies adhering to such agreements: the Cape May County, Monmoth County and Salem County sheriff's offices. All three agreements are set to expire June 30 of this year.

The refusal to honor detainer requests is a major sticking point which ICE has repeatedly capitalized on. In news releases, the agency often highlights brutal crimes committed after undocumented immigrants were released from local jails.

In one of those releases, the agency highlighted a Mexican man who was released from the Middlesex County Jail and allegedly went on to kill three people in Missouri. In Philadelphia, ICE said an Honduran man raped a child after being released from Philadelphia Department of Prisons. In North Carolina, a different Mexican man and convicted sex offender posed a "public safety threat" after being released from jail, according to the agency.

In each case, ICE highlighted local law enforcement's prior refusal to honor immigration detainers and used that to suggest that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to communities.

Yet studies show that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, and DeCristofaro sees ICE's methods as creating fear by way of focusing on isolated cases.

"It's fearmongering in two ways: it creates fear in the nonimmigrant community, and it creates fear within the immigrant community and makes them afraid to interact with law enforcement to improve the communities," he said.

And while Attorney General Grewal's directive looks to allay those fears in a state with one of the largest undocumented immigrant populations in the nation, whether it will work remains to be seen. His office did not respond to questions about whether ICE's threat of more raids could mean his policy backfires.

For now, DeCristofaro said, many of the immigrants he and his group work with remain hopeful but skeptical.

"I think the idea behind it as absolutely, positively solid, valid and helpful for the community. I think it's just gonna take a little time for it to get down to the community level," he said.

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