NJ Attorney General launches directive to build immigrant trust in law enforcement

JERSEY CITY, NJ — The New Jersey Attorney General launched a new directive that draws a line between state law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“Our approach is simple. We are limiting the types of voluntary assistance that we will provide to federal civil immigration authorities and in doing so, we are telling our state law enforcement agencies to focus their resources on their core priorities such as solving crimes and protecting the public rather than advancing Washington immigration agenda,” said Gurbir Grewal.

The goal is to build trust, he said, between cops and immigrants — a relationship that some immigrant advocates and officials have said they have seen erode in the past two years.

The numbers of detainees from 2016 to 2017 support that.

A report released last month from New Jersey Policy Perspective showed that law enforcement agencies have been turning over immigrants to federal authorities through so-called “detainer requests,” at a rate that skyrocketed under the Trump administration, and is higher than the national average — 87.5 percent in New Jersey, compared to 40 percent nationally.

Grewal said that will change.

“People incorrectly assume that state law enforcement and civil immigration authorities are working together in concert and somehow our residents including our diverse immigrant community should fear state law enforcement. That is not the case.  We want them to report crime without fear of being deported. We want them to come and testify without fear that ICE officers waiting for them and remove them.”

This initiative, the AG said, does not mean the state would protect criminals.

“We’re not giving sanctuary to anyone who commits crimes. If someone breaks the law in NJ, the men and women behind me will investigate those crimes and prosecute them.  No one gets a free pass for committing a crime in this state because of their immigration status.”

But the deputy director of ICE, Matthew Albence, said in a statement that the state’s initiative undermines public safety. Since arrests can no longer be made at jails, ICE will have no choice he said but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites.

Meanwhile, the state police, big city police departments and immigrant advocates all support the move.

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