NJ immigrant advocates say ICE is ramping up activity in response to AG directive

ICE is ramping up activity among New Jersey’s more than 500,000 unauthorized immigrants, Seth Kaper-Dale says. The pastor and immigration advocate runs a hotline called Dire — Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo — which usually gets three calls a month.

“And it rang five times this week with people who saw ICE activity in neighborhoods where they hadn’t seen ICE activity for many months, or ever,” said Kaper-Dale.

ICE vowed last week to double down on federal efforts to arrest unauthorized immigrants — targeting them in their neighborhoods and at work. The crackdown comes in response to a new directive from state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who ordered Jersey law enforcement to severely limit how much it helps ICE detain immigrants. It’s a direct slap at the Trump administration’s policies.

“With today’s directive, we are sending a message to those in Washington that we will not allow you to drive a wedge between our law enforcement officers and our immigrant communities,” Grewal said when he announced the initiative.

Grewal’s new directive was designed to calm immigrant anxiety and foster cooperation between cops and unauthorized immigrants. But ICE reacted by stating, “As a result of limited cooperation with local and state authorities, ICE will have no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at work sites, which will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests, instead of focusing on arrests at jails and prisons where transfers are safer for ICE officers and the community.”

“They are saying this just because they’re unhappy with the fact that local law enforcement is not going to be doing the job for them. And that’s really what this is really about. It’s really intimidating the community, because they are unhappy with the announcement,” said Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

Even before Grewal’s new directive, arrests by ICE in 2017 spiked 34.7 percent over the prior year, and deportations rose 31 percent over the same time period.

“I think ICE has made it their business, and they have said that what they want to do is arrest as many people as possible and deport as many people as possible, regardless of what the priorities look like,” Calle said. “The community has to unfortunately protect themselves because ICE is choosing to do this.”

“We spent the day in the streets of Perth Amboy handing out our fliers to a lot more people — a few hundred more people got the hotline. We took it to the barber shops, and the nail salons, and the corner stores and said, ‘If there’s anyone in your community who’s afraid right now, give them this number.’ And the response from every business that we went in was, ‘Thank you. We are afraid,'” Kaper-Dale said.

For now, the church will continue to monitor its Dire hotline with volunteers, but given the spike in phone calls, it’s planning to hire a part-time staffer.