CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is accusing Cape May County officials of renewing an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement without the state’s knowledge.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sought to sharply curtail the agreements, imposing new requirements on their implementation and renewal. In a July 6 letter to county Sheriff Robert Nolan, Veronica Allende, director of the attorney general’s Criminal Justice Division, said the county failed to meet the new requirements needed to renew the agreement.
She also accused the county of renewing the pact without alerting the state.
“At no point during this process did you or a member of your office contact the attorney general or his staff to discuss any aspect of the Immigrant Trust Directive or the supplemental memorandum of April 30, 2019,” the letter states.
Nolan did not respond to requests for comment. Other county officials said any comment on the matter would have to come from Nolan.
Allende wrote that she learned only last week of the renewal, after a reporter sought confirmation.
“The fact that no one in your office ever notified the Attorney General’s Office of its February 2019 renewal suggests that you deliberately declined to disclose this information over the past five months,” she said.
Known as a 287(g) agreement, the program allows designated local officers to perform the functions of ICE officers. It also offers training and supervision. In Cape May County, three officers with the Sheriff’s Office assigned to the county jail participate in the program under the current agreement.
Grewal plans to issue a directive Aug. 6 prohibiting Cape May County officers from exercising their law-enforcement authority in connection with the agreement unless the department adheres to the current state policy, Allende states.
In November, Grewal issued a statewide directive limiting the voluntary assistance local and county law enforcement can provide to immigration authorities, including ICE. Calling it the “Immigrant Trust Directive,” it prevented cooperation with ICE except under limited circumstances.
At the time, he said people are far less likely to report a crime to police if they fear the officer may turn them over to federal immigration authorities.
On April 30, Grewal outlined the extensive process any law-enforcement agency would need to undertake to enter or renew a 287(g) agreement. That included submitting a statement of why the agreement was justified and an analysis of the impact the agreement would have on law enforcement’s relationship with the immigrant communities.
According to state officials, Cape May County did not meet any of those requirements.
Allende wrote that there needs to be a clear distinction between state, county and local law-enforcement officers and the federal authorities enforcing civil immigration law.
“The problem with 287(g) agreements is that they blur this distinction,” reads Allende’s letter.
After then-Sheriff Gary Schaffer applied to enter the 287(g) agreement in 2016, he said the program would cover the cost of training for three officers. He said sheriff’s officers are stationed at the county jail and would only come in contact with those who have been taken to the facility after being accused of a crime.
The ICE website states the 287(g) program dates to 1996.
“The 287(g) program continues to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from its partners,” the site reads. “The mutually beneficial agreements allow state and local officers to act as a force multiplier in the identification, arrest and service of warrants and detainers of incarcerated foreign-born individuals with criminal charges or convictions.”
Some county residents opposed the agreement. They argued the program drove a wedge between law-enforcement agencies and already vulnerable immigrant communities. Opponents packed county freeholder meetings in March 2017, arguing against participation.
A copy of the agreement with Cape May County posted on the ICE website indicates it was set to expire June 30. In the days surrounding the Fourth of July, little information was available on what would happen next with the program. In response to a request for comment, officials with ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Newark stated: “The contract with Cape May is still active.”
Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Grewal’s office, seemed to contradict ICE’s assertion that the contract remains active. He wrote that there were three 287(g) agreements signed throughout New Jersey, in Monmouth, Salem and Cape May counties, and all expired June 30.
“We did not receive any requests for renewal or extension of those three existing 287(g) agreements,” he wrote in an email, also sent July 3.
He also sent a copy of an April 30 memorandum from Grewal to all law-enforcement chief executives in the state, outlining the procedures to enter a 287(g) contract.
“The Attorney General’s Office has not received any requests from other agencies. We do not have any further comment,” Aseltine wrote. His office later released the July 6 letter. A similar letter also went to Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.