The boundary between federal and state law enforcement has always been blurred. In the current political environment, the blurriness has become even more pervasive. The federal government, most notably the Customs and Immigration Enforcement agency, has attempted to use local law enforcement agencies to assist it in identifying and deporting undocumented aliens.
The Immigrant Trust Directive
In an effort to blunt this effort, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in November 2018 announced an Immigrant Trust Directive. The order did not go into effect until March 2019 after the attorney general made a few modifications, but it had a significant effect: the order forbade local law enforcement agencies from participating in federal immigration enforcement activities. In addition, Local officers were explicitly prohibited from questioning or arresting anyone based solely on a person’s suspected immigration status unless that person’s information was necessary to investigating a serious offense. Local law enforcement officers were also prohibited by the directive from detaining individuals whose immigrant status was uncertain at the request of the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Two counties sue the state
The directive was immediately opposed by the United States Justice Department and a few New Jersey sheriffs. Two counties, Cape May and Ocean, sued the state claiming that the directive conflicted with the federal government’s “statutorily granted powers” to obtain nad share information obtained by the state. The counties argued that any action by state officials to interfere with local officials obtaining and providing information about people illegally in the country exceeded the power of local law enforcement officials. The Justice Department supported the two counties in their suit.
Judge dismisses both law suits
On July 30, the federal judge who was assigned to handle the suits, handed down a decision granting the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In a 53-page opinion, Chief Judge Freda Wolfson of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that the provisions of the directive do not interfere with the federal government’s inherent power to regulate immigration under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The court thus concluded that the directive did not pose a true obstacle to the federal government’s execution of federal civil immigration law.
Attorney General Grewal praised the ruling as recognizing New Jersey’s authority to draw “a clear, bright line between the work of state law enforcement officials and federal civil immigration officers.”
This decision is very important because it removes one more source of harassment faced by immigrants in New Jersey. The power to stop and detain aliens simply because a police officer suspects they may be in the country illegally is grossly excessive. The express removal of the power through the Directive will provide significant relief from police harassment of all aliens, undocumented or legal. Anyone who feels that they have been unlawfully stopped and questioned by a local law enforcement officer may wish to consult an experienced immigration attorney for advice on the availability of various legal remedies.