Advertisement

New Jersey police will no longer assist federal immigration authorities

A rebuke of the Trump administration's hardline stance on immigration.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal this week unveiled a comprehensive, pro-immigrant directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.(Photo credit: Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal this week unveiled a comprehensive, pro-immigrant directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.(Photo credit: Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal this week unveiled a comprehensive, pro-immigrant directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.

“It’s an effort to build a model here that promotes trust with law enforcement and all our communities, that shows our immigrant communities throughout New Jersey that they can trust law enforcement and go about their daily lives without the fear that a trip to the grocery store will result in their removal to a detention facility,” Grewal said at a press conference Thursday.

States like California, Oregon, and Illinois have issued similar directives in the past, but New Jersey’s goes even further.

Under the Immigrant Trust Directive:

  • New Jersey police “cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status” and are barred from “ask[ing] the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense….”
  • Police are prohibited from participating in immigration raids or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations.
  • Officers will limit when and how immigration enforcement agents can enter local jails and notify individuals in custody of their rights with regards to immigration.
  • New Jersey law enforcement agencies are prohibited from entering, renewing, or extending 287(g) contracts — which allow police officers to act as immigration enforcement — “unless the Attorney General grants written approval.”
  • The directive also establishes new guidelines for how police officers must respond to and support immigrant crime victims who cooperate with police officers.

This new directive unravels an earlier one from 2007 by former New Jersey AG Anne Milgram, which effectively gave state law enforcement officials carte blanche to inquire about the immigration status of anyone in custody and notify federal authorities if they believed someone who had been arrested was in the country without documentation.

Advertisement

Under the previous policy, members of the migrant community were reported to ICE over minor infractions like driving without a license or failing to pay a ticket on time.

After President Trump’s election in 2016, New Jersey saw a 42 percent increase in the number of detained immigrants, according to Sara Cullaine, director of Make the Road New Jersey, a grassroots immigration rights group that played a key role in the directive.

“What we saw were egregious results of the 2007 directive,” Cullaine told ThinkProgress. “Now it feels like we’re breathing different air. For so long people have been terrified of being stopped while driving or talking to a police officer.”

In addition to Trump’s election, an ICE raid in the largely immigrant town of Elizabeth propelled Make the Road New Jersey to push for immigration reform on a state level.

“That created a climate of extraordinary fear,” Cullaine said. “People pulling their children out of schools, too afraid to be out in public. Afterwards came the big campaign to push our state to not aid in deportations.”

Advertisement

In addition to the provisions barring state law enforcement from doing the work of immigration enforcement, the directive also provides steps towards building a better relationship with the state’s immigrant community.

The New Jersey AG’s office has released a series of videos explaining the new directive in 10 different languages.

“In the United States, not all law enforcement officers are the same. Some work for the federal government and are responsible for enforcing civil immigration law,” Col. Patrick Callahan explains in the English language video. “Others, like the police officers you see everyday in your town, have a different role. They work for state and local governments. They focus on protecting public safety, not enforcing immigration law.”

“To help make this distinction clear, the state of New Jersey issued new rules designed to strengthen trust between law enforcement officers and immigrant communities. The rules limit the types of assistance that New Jersey state and local law enforcement officers may provide to federal immigration authorities, including ICE.”

The directive also includes measures to ensure immigrants feel comfortable interacting with police officers, including a process for immigrant crime victims to report crimes securely and protocols ensuring language barriers do not keep immigrants from receiving police support.

Advertisement

While New Jersey’s pro-immigrant policies are welcome news to many in the activist community, similar directives in states like California haven’t always gone smoothly. A federal court ruled in February that, despite the state’s immigrant protection directive, ICE and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had “unlawfully detained thousands of suspected immigrants on the basis of unconstitutional requests from ICE known as immigration detainers,” according to the American Civil Liberties (ACLU).