Newark, N.J.’s refusal to detain undocumented immigrants for minor offenses could serve as an olive branch to the immigrant community.
As of last month, the Newark, New Jersey police department is no longer taking orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain undocumented immigrants who have been picked up for minor criminal offenses such as shoplifting or vandalism.
The policy was signed into law by Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio on July 24.
Newark may be the first and only law enforcement agency in New Jersey no longer to honor detainer requests from ICE, but it’s far from the only police department in the country to have done so. Police departments in Los Angeles, the District of Columbia, Chicago, New York City and New Orleans have also implemented policies stating they won’t honor ICE detainer requests.
The policy change was applauded by civil rights and faith leaders, who say the detainers — which allow law enforcement to hold in custody for up to 48 hours, without a warrant, those whose immigration status is in question — discourage communities of immigrants and law enforcement officials from having a cooperative relationship.
Immigrant-rights advocates said they view the new police protocol as an olive branch to undocumented people living in the U.S., who may be hesitant to cooperate with police officers who are investigating crimes in the community for fear they may be deported. New Jersey reportedly has one of the largest immigrant populations in the nation.
“Law enforcement officials across the country have recognized that local police officers should not be in the business of federal immigration enforcement,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey, which advocated for the policy shift.
“With this new policy in place, the Newark Police Department has made it clear that all residents, regardless of their immigration status, are safe to cooperate with the police,” Ofer continued in the release. “This policy ensures that if you’re a victim of a crime, or have witnessed a crime, you can contact the police without having to fear deportation. This will make all Newarkers safer.”
Emily Tucker is an attorney at the Center for Popular Democracy. She said the group was “thrilled that Newark is standing in solidarity with immigrant families by rejecting all future collaboration with the federal deportation apparatus.
“Spending local tax dollars to take parents away from their children and workers away from their jobs is both morally wrong and bad for the economy,” Tucker said. “We hope the Newark policy will serve as a model for the rest of New Jersey, and for cities around the country who don’t want local resources being spent to help ICE meet its arbitrary enforcement quotas.”
New Jersey to New Orleans to Los Angeles
The New York Times recently published an editorial applauding those cities that have announced they will no longer be cooperating with ICE’s detainer requests and encouraged other cities to follow suit.
“The federal dragnet that makes little distinction between tamale sellers and dangerous criminals — greatly expanded by the use of local law enforcement officials across the country — has been ensnaring record numbers of minor offenders,” the editorial board wrote. “This melding of local crime fighting and immigration enforcement has led to unjust imprisonment, policing abuses, racial profiling and paralyzing fear in immigrant communities.
“The damage to public safety is measurable; a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that Latinos, both immigrants and native-born, often shun the police and are reluctant to cooperate with criminal investigations. Combating domestic violence, sexual abuse and gang-related crimes becomes far more difficult when local cops are de facto federal agents.”
Amy Gottlieb, director of the American Friends Service Committee, said she hoped other law enforcement agencies would implement similar policies, adding that “any detainer policy where people are aware that the police department is acting in support of the immigrant community is going to be helpful for police and immigrant relations.”
While Newark officers will no longer hold persons in an immigration detention center for committing a minor-level offense, the Newark Police Department will still report information to ICE after arresting an individual and also will continue to share fingerprint information with federal investigators.
“If we arrest somebody for a disorderly persons offense and we get a detainer request, we’re not going to hold them in our cell block,” DeMaio said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten a detainer request on a guy with a misdemeanor,” adding that the department received a total of eight detainer requests in 2012.
Helpful or harmful to a city’s crime fighters?
While California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has said he would sign legislation limiting who state and local law enforcement officials can hold for deportation, and while Connecticut’s legislature unanimously passed similar legislation, not everyone thinks the policy is a good idea.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, for example, called the policy “another in a long line of missteps” by his opponent, Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D), saying the new policy will only lead to an increase in crime.
“We’re sending a signal,” he said, that “you can come to the country illegally, you can shoplift, you can vandalize but it’s alright. We’re going to make sure you’re safe. It’s a great message to our kids.”
Kevin Griffs, a spokesman for the Booker campaign, said Lonegan’s understanding of the policy was inaccurate and explained that “all serious offenders obviously go to the county jail, and ultimately, the mayor’s thinking was that this was going to improve relations between the police department and the immigrant community and help the Newark Police Department catch more of the real bad guys.”
ICE officials have declined to comment on the policy change.