The Third Circuit Court of Appeals today released a decision upholding the Immigrant Trust Directive issued in 2018 by former New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
The directive, which went into effect in March 2019, provides that, except in limited circumstances, New Jersey’s law enforcement officers:
Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status;
Cannot ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation;
Cannot participate in civil immigration enforcement operations conducted by ICE;
Cannot provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property, unless those resources are readily available to the public;
Cannot allow ICE to interview an individual arrested on a criminal charge unless that person is advised of his or her right to a lawyer.
At the time, Grewal stated that the new rules are designed to strengthen trust between New Jersey law enforcement officers and the state’s diverse immigrant communities, and emphasized that nothing in the directive limits New Jersey law enforcement agencies from enforcing state law – and nothing in the directive should be read to imply that New Jersey provides “sanctuary” to those who commit crimes in this state. Moreover, nothing restricts police from complying with federal law or valid court orders, including judicially-issued arrest warrants for individuals, regardless of immigration status. Rather, the directive is intended to draw a clear line between the responsibility of New Jersey’s 36,000 law enforcement officers to enforce state criminal laws and the responsibility of federal immigration authorities to enforce federal civil immigration law. The directive applies to all state, county and local law enforcement agencies, including police, prosecutors, county detectives, sheriff’s officers, and correction officers, and seeks to ensure that immigrants feel safe reporting crimes to New Jersey law enforcement officers.
In Fall 2019, the then-Ocean County Board of Freeholders sued in court against the directive.
The piece of the directive that Ocean County officials objected to most, strongly affects cooperation between the county jail and sheriff’s office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The county wanted to resume voluntarily exchanging information with ICE, which they had done since 2015.
Prior to the directive, Ocean County jails were visited frequently by ICE agents looking to cross-reference the identities of inmates with wanted immigrants in their database.
Under the directive, ICE agents are only allowed to access a database that is available to all members of the general public. Additionally, county jails now will only hold an inmate sought by ICE if the federal agency has a warrant for his or her arrest.
In July 2020, a federal district court upheld the Immigrant Trust Directive.
Ocean County and Cape May County, which also sued against the Directive, appealed their case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Court. The Appeals Court has now affirmed the district court ruling.
Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck stated, “For three years, the Immigrant Trust Directive has helped us to foster trust between New Jersey’s police officers and the state’s historically marginalized communities by drawing a clear, bright line between the work of state law enforcement officers and federal civil immigration officers.
“Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed that our approach is lawful. I hope this brings an end to this years-long litigation, as we continue doing the hard work of promoting good policing policy. New Jersey residents should never be afraid that interacting with our cops as victims and witnesses will lead to their deportation.”