As a lawyer in Cape May County, I have had the privilege of representing many of my neighbors in matters ranging from municipal to constitutional law. My clients have taught me an important truth: when people have reason to trust law enforcement, our communities are safer and more welcoming places for everyone to live.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal recognized this principle more than a year ago when he announced the Immigrant Trust Directive, flanked by supporters in law enforcement.
Unfortunately, the Department of Justice has just filed a lawsuit challenging the directive, coming on the heels of its brief in support of lawsuits filed by Cape May County and Ocean County. The federal government has joined these counties in an effort that prioritizes the dehumanization and intimidation of immigrants over public safety and human dignity.
The directive draws a distinct line between the roles of local law enforcement and federal immigration officers. The attorney general reaffirmed this principle by ending New Jersey’s participation in a program that deputizes local law enforcement to act as agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through contracts known as 287(g) agreements.
When Attorney General Grewal announced the Immigrant Trust Directive, a wall of law enforcement officials stood beside him at the podium. They recognized that in an era marked by anti-immigrant vitriol, advancing public safety demands a clear separation of roles.
Cape May County and Ocean County officials, and now the federal government, have instead endeavored to sacrifice the safety of their communities by doubling down on a politics of fear and division. As Cape May County residents, we have a responsibility to protect our community. In this case, that duty means reminding our officials of their responsibility to serve all our community’s members.
The lawsuits against the directive demonstrate a flawed understanding of what keeps people safe. When lines between local and federal law enforcement grow fuzzy, people fear that even commonplace interactions with police, such as reporting a crime, could result in their own or a loved one’s deportation. As a result, people who fear those consequences may shy away from calling the police in emergencies. Our community is stronger when all people can place trust in law enforcement to promote public safety.
The suits also demonstrate a flawed understanding of constitutional rights. By encouraging racial profiling and enabling unlawful detention, collaborations with ICE leave local jurisdictions vulnerable to often-successful constitutional challenges.
Moreover, Attorney General Grewal, as our state’s chief law enforcement officer, has constitutional authority to supervise the law enforcement agencies he oversees.
Initially, the directive did not prohibit 287(g) agreements, but did require AG and public review of any proposed contracts. The two counties with agreements already in place, Cape May and Monmouth, renewed their contracts just before the directive went into effect, violating the spirit of the policy. When the counties submitted defenses for their use of ICE contracts, at the request of the Attorney General’s Office, their explanations made clear that the dangers of subordinating local concerns to an anti-immigrant federal government could not be justified.
I moved to Cape May County in 1989, when I joined the predecessor to my law firm, and I have worked with members of our community ever since. I’ve seen our county grow in diversity and inclusiveness. We all value our safety, and we all value fair treatment. That’s what makes the Immigrant Trust Directive so important.
As of 2019, only 89 jurisdictions across the country have 287(g) agreements, out of more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies. Dozens have withdrawn their agreements, recognizing the devastating effect on public trust, public safety, law enforcement resources, and civil rights – all at local taxpayer expense. In our state, with one of the highest immigrant populations in the country, 287(g) agreements present outsized threats.
Just because a policy reflects our values of empathy and civil rights doesn’t constrict its power as an effective public safety tool. And just because a policy seems “tough,” that doesn’t mean it makes us any safer.
Cape May County and the Department of Justice have tried to perpetuate a false dichotomy, between “immigrants” and “residents,” but that fiction ignores who we are. New Jersey residents are immigrants, and immigrants are New Jersey residents.
Public servants in Cape May County have a duty to recognize that all people who call Cape May County home, no matter their country of origin, are members of the Cape May County community that they have vowed to protect.