The Cape May County Sheriff’s Office recently joined a partnership program with federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement. It can now begin processing undocumented immigrants in the county jail, ones charged with or convicted of a crime, for possible federal deportation.

Representatives of advocacy groups protested the participation by the sheriff’s office, saying among other allegations that those in jail aren’t necessarily “serious” criminals and that the action would create anxiety in the immigrant community — enough to perhaps avoid the county.

A review of the 287(g) program suggests that on its own, the Cape partnership will neither greatly increase the deportation of criminal, undocumented immigrants nor change much about immigrant-community conditions in the county.

The Clinton administration began the program in the mid-1990s without fanfare. At one point, 72 localities participated in it. From 2006 to 2015, program participants identified about 400,000 people for possible deportation. By comparison, the Obama administration annually deported about that many people, criminal or not, on average.

The Cape Sheriff’s Office became the 38th law-enforcement agency to partner with ICE. Others in New Jersey are in Salem, Monmouth and Hudson counties.

The Cape sheriff said his office already has worked with ICE at the county jail for eight years, helping process the removal of 193 inmates from there and other facilities. He said an important change will be getting access to the federal agency’s computer system.

ICE will give three Cape officers four weeks of training, including in “immigration law, the use of ICE databases, multicultural communication and the avoidance of racial profiling,” adding the latter “will not be tolerated” by programs or officers. Refresher courses are required every two years.

The Sheriff’s Office apparently didn’t require the approval of the county freeholders but would have gotten it if needed. Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said, “We’re not going to be considered a sanctuary county.” Regarding undocumented immigrants charged or convicted of crimes, he said, “It’s crazy to release them back into society again.”

The sheriff noted that New Jersey’s new bail reform that releases on summonses many more charged with crimes means most of those held in the jail are there on serious charges.

The 287(g) program became law in 1996 and operated for many years without much public attention. There is no story about it in The Press archives, nor about the decline of participation by law-enforcement agencies under the Obama administration. But once the Trump administration asked the Department of Homeland Security to enter into more such agreements, it instantly became a matter of contention.

That suggests it’s a flashpoint for President Trump’s supporters and opponents over immigration policy, which is fine. But participation by the sheriff’s office looks to us like what’s been considered normal immigration enforcement for the past two decades.


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