With deployment of tactical unit, ICE targets Newark and other sanctuary cities

Trump administration plans to deploy special tactical units of the U.S. Border Patrol to Newark and other so-called sanctuary cities are highlighting a stark divide in New Jersey on immigration policy — drawing condemnations from city hall and the Governor’s Office and hallelujahs from supporters of the Republican president.

Officials with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement have said they plan to send 100 members of the Border Patrol’s BORTAC unit to eight cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, between now and May, to work alongside other federal immigration agents. The normal mission of the unit — an elite, special operations force whose members are trained in sniper warfare and use such tactics as stun grenades during raids — is to respond to “emergent and high-risk incidents,” according to the Border Patrol website.

President Donald Trump has castigated Newark and other cities for resisting the tough immigration enforcement policies of his administration by placing limits on the degree to which local police and other authorities cooperate with federal immigration agencies.

“In sanctuary cities, local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed,” Trump said during his State the Union speech earlier this month.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka called the deployment of BORTAC teams “… a travesty. The immigrants in our community are important to our city’s growth, documented or undocumented,” he said.

In a tweet, Gov. Phil Murphy also criticized the plan, saying, “Our communities are safer when we treat our residents with respect, and when law enforcement builds bridges through trust.”

The first-term Democrat has come under withering fire from Republicans in the state for his progressive agenda, especially elements that embrace unauthorized immigrants. They hailed the Trump administration for the move to boost enforcement.

State Sen. Mike Testa of South Jersey said Murphy’s “… extreme sanctuary state policies have handcuffed New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies and set criminal aliens free. We’re thankful that the U.S. Department of Justice and federal immigration officials have stepped up to keep New Jerseyans safe.”

The deployment of the Border Patrol unit comes amid an ongoing and multi-front battle over Murphy’s immigration policy. In 2018, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced an Immigrant Trust Directive, a move that limits voluntary assistance between local law enforcement officers and federal immigration authorities. Now the Department of Justice and two New Jersey counties are suing to block the directive.

In Newark, Baraka three years ago signed an executive order designating the state’s largest municipality a “Fair and Welcoming” city, which restricted the involvement of local authorities in enforcing federal immigration law.

Baraka insists that city police do prosecute any immigrants involved with violent crimes, and do notify ICE.

“There is absolutely no sanctuary in this city for dangerous criminals, for that would be a betrayal of my personal values and the promise I made to all residents to keep Newark a safer city by building trust in our police,” he said in a statement.

But ICE maintains policies like Newark’s limit the effectiveness of federal agencies: “ICE has no choice but to conduct more at-large, targeted enforcement actions since the agency is unable to take custody of a criminal alien within the confines of a local jail.”

Advocates, meanwhile, said the BORTAC deployment was nothing more than retribution by the Trump administration.

“Quite frankly, I think this is a vindictive policy on behalf of the Trump administration, a way of getting back at those states who oppose his policies on immigrants,” said Lawrence Hamm, chair of the Newark-based People’s Organization for Progress.

Others worried that the enhanced enforcement could invoke fear in some immigrant communities.

“I think people are definitely going to be even more scared to leave their homes, possibly,” said Hera Mir of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “Maybe not send their children to schools. We know that whenever there’s an increase with ICE arrests and threats, that’s what happens.”