Gov. Phil Murphy and his attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, recently escalated their war against law enforcement cooperation when it involves illegal immigrants. They ordered Cape May and Monmouth counties to quit their long-running 287(g) programs that enable county jails to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement to protect the public from criminally charged or convicted illegal immigrants.

Previously Grewal had insisted the counties couldn’t continue the programs without his permission. Now it’s clear his intent all along was to shut them down.

That’s too bad. The program gives corrections officers free training in determining the immigration status of criminally charged inmates and designating them for possible federal immigration enforcement.

The 287(g) program has helped keep local communities safe, especially immigrant communities to which the criminally charged or convicted subjects would likely return if released.

In Cape May County this past summer, one inmate processed for removal by ICE had been charged with aggravated sexual assault on a minor and endangering the welfare of a child. Another was charged with aggravated assault, aggravated assault with attempt to cause bodily injury, and threats to kill by attempting to stab with a kitchen knife. Since the jail program began in October 2017, it has cooperated in the deportation of four people.

At the Monmouth County Jail from October 2018 through May this year, 188 inmates with immigration violations were flagged — 122 with pending criminal charges and 66 with criminal convictions. County Sheriff Shaun Golden said, “I don’t think we should release a criminal … to go out and do more harm to our residents here in Monmouth County.”

Grewal has said the federal program cooperating with county jails isn’t necessary.

But if Cumberland County had been participating in the 287(g) program, perhaps it wouldn’t recently have released a man charged with sexual assault, even though federal immigration authorities had requested that he be held.

Two ICE offices had lodged detainers for the Mexican-born 28-year-old, who was also charged with aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal restraint. Yet 11 days after his arrest, he was released. He remains at large.

Murphy and Grewal have said stopping cooperation on immigration enforcement might improve relations between law enforcement and immigrant communities. But failing to protect those communities from criminals seems more likely to undermine their trust in law enforcement.

The counties have strongly backed their law enforcers cooperating with federal authorities, which is good. The courts should allow such standard and ordinary cooperation to continue, for the sake of public safety.

But too bad Murphy and Grewal are wasting state resources and forcing counties to respond.

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