A legal battle over immigration policy is looming between Trenton and two New Jersey counties after Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Friday ordered New Jersey jails to end agreements with federal immigration authorities.
Monmouth and Cape May counties had recently renewed so-called 287(g) agreements promising to cooperate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and detain immigrant prisoners until they could be arrested by federal agents.
In issuing what he called a revised directive, Grewal said the ICE agreements are not good policy and are redundant with existing state law enforcement policy.
“I’ve concluded that these agreements undermine public trust, without enhancing public safety,” Grewal said in a news conference in Newark. “And that any of their purported benefits are already achieved through our Immigrant Trust Directive.
Sheriffs in both counties renewed their ICE contracts this summer, for 10 years, after Grewal in an earlier version of the directive had ordered law enforcement agencies in the state to avoid becoming de facto ICE agents.
On Friday, both Shaun Golden of Monmouth County and Robert Nolan in Cape May County vowed to launch legal challenges to the directive.
“We plan to take this matter to court and I will take any avenue available to me to protect the residents of our County,” said Nolan.
“We do not recall a directive that has ever been issued to ignore laws of this country or state,” Golden said. “As a result, we shall continue to pursue legal remedies of this directive.”
Grewal said his directive does not make the public any less safe.
“Critics like to claim we’re providing ‘sanctuary’ to dangerous criminals,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Under our Immigrant Trust Directive, if you break the law, you go to jail, regardless of your immigration status.”
Grewal also said his new directive lets jails alert ICE if they’re holding serious or violent offenders. His decision drew praise from the ACLU and immigration advocates.
“ICE enforcement, especially the immigration work that they have done, has really terrorized the community,” said Johanna Calle, director of the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “And then people are really afraid to engage with local law enforcement, when they think that their local cop is going to be working with ICE and helping with deportation. So I think this is the right move.”
Critics say the Trump administration uses the immigration issue as a political tool to whip up its base. But the acting director of ICE claimed its criminal arrests dropped by “double digits” last year and blamed policies like Grewal’s.
“The fact is that 70% of the arrests ICE makes are at local jails and state prisons across the country,” Matthew Albence said. “But we used to make more. And we used to get more criminals off the street before sanctuary laws and policies prevented us from doing so, leaving us with no choice but to expend significant additional resources to locate and arrest criminal aliens and other immigration violators out in the community.”
Grewal has given Monmouth and Cape May seven days to wind down their operations with ICE. If they don’t comply, he threatened to react strongly.
“I have supervisory power over law enforcement in this state,” he said, “to include the power to discipline and to have the ability to take control of certain offices, if it comes to that.”