Lawsuit: NJ county should be allowed to share inmate info with ICE
The lawsuit is seeking a judgement that the AG does not have the power to prohibit Ocean County from sharing info with other agencies
By Joe Atmonavage
NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.
OCEAN COUNTY, NJ — A Jersey Shore county is suing the Attorney General’s Office over a directive that prohibits the county from sharing inmate information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
On behalf of the county, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, which is made up of five Republicans, filed the lawsuit against Attorney Gurbir Grewal and his office over restrictions put on local authorities in working with federal immigration officials. Those restrictions say the county cannot provide ICE with information about the immigration status of inmates.
The lawsuit claims the directive by Grewal is “overreaching,” and that Ocean County has “exclusive authority” over how the county’s Department of Corrections shares inmate information with federal law enforcement agencies, specifically their immigration status.
Freeholder John Kelly said the board’s position is that Grewal does not have the legal authority to dictate what law enforcement agencies the county can communicate and work with. He said the county has the right to communicate with all levels of law enforcement
“What’s next? What can you tell us not to do? Not talk to to local law enforcement?" Kelly said Wednesday.
The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but said in a statement, that Grewal, like his predecessors, has the “broad authority to establish statewide law enforcement policies” that extends to all law enforcement officers in New Jersey.
Before the directive, according to the lawsuit, Ocean County voluntarily shared inmate information with ICE, which allows the federal agency to identify and remove individuals who are not legally permitted to be in the United States before they are released back into the community.
The lawsuit says the sharing of the information is part of their “responsibility to safeguard” local communities.
Between Jan. 1 2017 and July 31, 2019, about 18 percent of foreign-born inmates were subject to immigration detainers upon their release from Ocean County Jail, according to the lawsuit.
It is unclear how many inmates that represents, but the lawsuit says it “underscores the county’s imperative to exercise its legal authority to voluntarily share inmate information with ICE.” In Monmouth County, authorities previously said just 40 of the 7,845 inmates in their jail in 2018 were found to be undocumented immigrants.
At an August freeholder meeting in which the board voted unanimously to sue the Attorney General, the board said they were only looking to cooperate with ICE to determine if prisoners in county jails are undocumented immigrants.
“The freeholders believe that law enforcement should be fully cooperating at every level of government, including the federal government,” Charles Block, an Ocean County administrator, said in August. “We’re doing this out of concern for the safety and welfare of people in the county.”
The lawsuit is seeking a judgement that the Attorney General does not have the power to prohibit Ocean County from sharing inmate information with other law enforcement agencies. Kelly said the county will follow the directive as the case plays out in court.
The Attorney General’s Office has said the “Immigration Trust Directive,” which went into effect in March, was put into place to “strengthen trust between New Jersey’s law enforcement officers and the state’s diverse immigrant communities,” by limiting local cooperation with ICE.
“The purpose of the Immigrant Trust Directive was clear: to draw a bright, clear line between federal immigration authorities, who enforce federal civil immigration law, and state and local law enforcement officers, who don’t,” the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Wednesday.
Opponents of Grewal’s immigration directive have said it turned New Jersey into a “sanctuary state.”
But the Attorney General’s Office has routinely disputed that.
“Let’s also remember what the Immigrant Trust Directive doesn’t do. It doesn’t provide ‘sanctuary’ to individuals who commit crimes in this state, it doesn’t allow officers to violate state or federal law, and it doesn’t prevent police from complying with valid court orders," the statement said. "Our goal is to build trust, not undermine it.”
©2019 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.