Trenton, NJ – The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has issued a sharp warning to two sheriff’s offices, after the law enforcement agencies quietly extended their agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without the attorney general’s approval.
The Cape May County Sheriff’s Office (CMCSO) renewed its agreement with ICE in February, and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) signed off on a 10-year agreement with ICE in March, the Asbury Park Press reported.
Those renewals allow sheriff’s personnel to alert ICE about potential illegal aliens who are booked into jail, which could lead to the offenders being deported.
On Monday, Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende issued letters to both departments, alleging that the agreements suggest “that you deliberately declined to disclose this information” to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office, in violation of the “Immigrant Trust Directive.”
In that directive, which was issued in November of 2018, Grewal demanded that law enforcement agencies forgo signing agreements with ICE without his written approval.
Grewal also tasked law enforcement with convincing him that any proposed agreement “was necessary to address a national emergency,” according to Allende’s letters.
“There were good reasons for this requirement,” Allende scolded. “The Immigrant Trust Directive was designed to strengthen trust between New Jersey’s law enforcement officers and the state’s diverse immigrant communities, thereby ensuring that victims and witnesses felt safe reporting crimes.”
Allende argued that the sheriff’s offices’ agreements with ICE “blur” the distinction between state law and federal immigration law.
“These agreements essentially deputize our state’s police officers to operate like ICE agents,” she continued. “This blurring of responsibilities makes it more difficult for residents…to understand how different law enforcement agencies operate, in turn undermining the hard-earned trust that New Jersey’s law enforcement officers have built with the public.”
Allende noted that Grewal has the power to immediately prohibit such agreements, but that he opted to allow the departments to ask for his written permission instead.
“The purpose of this provision was to give the Attorney General greater oversight of [agreements with ICE], thereby ensuring that such agreements were only used when truly necessary to serve compelling law enforcement purposes,” she wrote.
The provision also gave local law enforcement agencies “sufficient time to wind down their reliance on ICE resources before declining to renew these agreements,” Allende added.
She blasted the two departments for failing to abide by Grewal’s directive, and said she was “surprised” to recently learn that their agreements with ICE had been renewed months earlier.
“The fact that no one in your office ever notified the Attorney General’s Office…suggests that you deliberately declined to disclose this information,” Allende railed.
She then placed the departments on notice that, effective Aug. 6, “the Attorney General intends to issue a directive…prohibiting officers…from exercising their law enforcement authority in connection with” the recently renewed agreements with ICE.
Grewal may reconsider if the departments submit required documentation to prove that the agreement “served a valid law enforcement purpose,” Allende added.
New Jersey Assembly Republicans rebuked the attorney general’s office’s letters on Wednesday, the Asbury Park Press reported.
Assemblyman Hal Wirths argued that the threatening letters and enforcement of the Immigrant Trust Directive are placing citizens’ safety at risk.
“It’s completely outrageous that the Murphy administration continues to block law enforcement from protecting their own communities against illegal immigrants who have committed egregious crimes,” Wirths said. “The sheriffs have a duty and right to stop rapists and murders living in New Jersey illegally from seeking asylum in their towns. It’s time our attorney general starts protecting law-abiding citizens.”