Amid a swath of new immigration-policy lawsuits, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of New Jersey on Monday, alleging that the Garden State is flouting federal law by limiting local law enforcement’s cooperation with immigration officials.

This isn’t the first time President Donald Trump’s administration has challenged a state’s immigration law in court. Here’s a primer on this latest lawsuit.

Why is the Justice Department suing New Jersey?

The Justice Department’s lawsuit challenges New Jersey’s “Immigrant Trust Directive,” which limits how much state officials can cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

In the 13-page complaint, filed Monday, the Justice Department asserts that on multiple occasions last year, New Jersey officials did not provide information to federal officials about the prison release dates of undocumented immigrants charged with or convicted of crimes, violating federal law.

By Tuesday, New Jersey officials and immigrant advocates had quickly written off Trump’s lawsuit over the year-old immigration directive as 2020 “election year politics.”

The Trump administration first intervened in New Jersey’s immigration debate last month, when it joined a local lawsuit over the Immigrant Trust Directive in Cape May and Ocean Counties a day before the president’s rally in Wildwood.

Over the last three years, Garden State officials have sued the federal government several times in efforts to impede the administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. In August 2019, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and a dozen other states filed a lawsuit in attempts to block a Trump administration policy that would penalize legal immigrants who get help from public assistance programs.

What is New Jersey’s Immigrant Trust Directive?

The statewide edict, enacted in November 2018, restricts the type of assistance New Jersey law enforcement officers can offer federal immigration authorities.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has said the directive is designed to strengthen trust between police and the Garden State’s immigrant communities, and ensure they feel safe when reporting crimes.

Under the order, except in limited circumstances, New Jersey law enforcement cannot:

  • Stop, question, arrest, search, or detain anyone based on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Ask people their immigration status, unless it's necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense.
  • Participate in immigration-enforcement operations conducted by officers with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE.
  • Provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement databases, office space, or equipment, unless those resources are also available to the public.
  • Allow ICE to interview anyone arrested on a criminal charge unless that person is advised of the right to a lawyer.

The directive also requires police to notify individuals if an ICE immigration detainer request has been filed against them. Those detainers have been hotly contested in Philadelphia and beyond.

So, what could this lawsuit mean for New Jersey?

If a federal judge determines that New Jersey’s Immigrant Trust Directive violates the Constitution, as the Trump administration claims, state law enforcement could be forced to comply and share information with ICE officials.

Other suits target ‘sanctuary’ policies in California, Seattle

On Monday, the Department of Justice also sued the State of California and King County, Wash., over other immigration sanctuary policies the federal agency has deemed as “unlawful.”

The lawsuit against California challenges a state law banning ICE’s facilities and other privately run detention centers. Meanwhile, the suit in Washington challenges an executive order banning airport deportation flights in the county that encompasses Seattle.

Additionally on Monday, the State of New York sued the Trump administration over the Department of Homeland Security’s move to prevent New Yorkers from using programs intended to speed up international travel. The lawsuit claims the ban is “political retribution” after New York passed a law allowing people without legal immigration status to obtain driver’s licenses.

How the courts have previously ruled

In March 2018, the Trump administration sued the State of California over three laws regarding law enforcement, jails, and private employers cooperating with immigration officials. A federal judge, and later, an appeals court panel rejected the bulk of the administration’s case.

And in Philadelphia in June 2018, a federal judge ruled that Trump administration’s attempts to withhold federal law enforcement grant money over the city’s sanctuary policies “violates statutory and constitutional law.” In New York, a judge also sided with the state over the administration’s similar attempts to withhold grant money.