New Jersey updating state policy on ICE cooperation

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said he plans to announce a new directive on state and local law enforcement’s relationship with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as soon as next month.

Grewal said Monday that the state’s 2007 directive — which says local police must ask about a defendant’s immigration status after an arrest on “serious criminal charges,” and notify ICE if the person may be in the country illegally — does not reflect the immigration realities of today.

“If federal immigration authorities have a criminal warrant and they need our assistance in executing criminal warrants, we’ll cooperate,” Grewal said. “But we’re not here as state law enforcement officers to enforce civil immigration laws.”

State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan said ICE agents have not asked troopers to do that. “Not at the state level,” he said. “We’ve not been asked to participate in any of the civil actions that the general alluded to.”

Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and civil rights groups are providing input on the new guidance that should be announced within the next month, according to Grewal.

“We work hard to encourage minority communities to come out of the shadows to report crimes,” said Grewal. “And when they feel that they can’t come and report a crime because we may somehow enforce federal civil immigration laws, that makes it harder for the troopers in the state and 30,000 plus law enforcement officers to do their jobs.”

Grewal’s comments come nine months into the first term of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on making New Jersey a “sanctuary state,” although he did not specify exactly what that would mean.

Cities and towns across the U.S., including Newark and Philadelphia, have adopted “sanctuary” policies that limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration agents, arguing that these policies make communities safer by encouraging undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding residents to report crimes. (Others have sought to partner with the agency.)

However, the Trump administration has attempted to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, claiming that they harbor criminals.

Two more families choose sanctuary in a Philly church over separation, deportation

For several months during 1984, a family who’d fled violence in Guatemala hid out from immigration enforcement in the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

Last Tuesday, two more families followed in their footsteps, entering the same imposing stone building on Germantown Avenue without knowing when they would be able to move freely again.

They joined the growing number of immigrants in Philadelphia and the U.S. who choose to take sanctuary in churches and other religious buildings, rather than accept deportation and threats of violence in their home countries. Carmela Apolonio Hernandez and her four children have been living at Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia since mid-December 2017 to avoid deportation to Mexico after their application for asylum was denied.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a policy of avoiding arrests in “sensitive locations,” which include houses of worship. Immigrants who choose to stay in the churches enter what is essentially self-incarceration to make use of this policy.

37-year-old Suyapa Reyes fled Honduras five years ago and applied for asylum in the United States. She lost her case, and afterwards ICE was keeping tabs on her family through biweekly check-ins for several months before telling her that she would have to leave.

“[The ICE agent] told me I had to leave behind my kids who were born here” when she left the country, said Reyes.  The idea of putting them in foster care was unimaginable. “There’s no one they could stay with here. I’m they’re mother and father,” she said.

ICE spokesman Emilio Dabul said the agency “cannot comment regarding the Reyes [case] due to pending legal issues.”

Instead, she and four of her children, Jennifer, 13, Yeimi, 7, Jason, 2 and Junior, 10 months, packed their belongings into a van and moved into a Sunday school classroom in the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, which goes by the acronym FUMCOG, with the help of the New Sanctuary Movement, a Philadelphia immigrants rights organization.

“I feel happy here. I feel protected here. I feel like no one is going to separate me from my kids,” said Reyes.

The prospect of family separation also loomed over the Thompsons.

Clive and Oneita Thompson came to the United States in 2004 from Jamaica, after gang members killed Oneita’s brother and burned her family’s farm. That same year, they applied for asylum, a process that can take years. In the meantime, they put down roots in Cedarville, New Jersey, working as a machine operator at Cumberland Dairy and nurse assistant at a retirement community in Woodstown.

They also raised five children who all have legal grounds to stay in the U.S.: two are U.S. citizens, one is a permanent resident, and two are beneficiaries of Deferred Action or Childhood Arrivals or DACA program. However, in 2009 the couple lost their case for asylum, and they lost a subsequent appeal a couple of years later. Federal immigration authorities allowed Clive and Oneita to stay and work legally, under what’s called an order of supervision, until about a month ago, when they got word they needed to buy one-way tickets to Jamaica.

Clive said they bought the tickets, but couldn’t bring themselves to use them.

For us to go back, it would be very dangerous,” he said. “Where would we go, after giving up all that we have here? I think that is injustice.”

They own a home, cars, and have been paying taxes and working with authorization. If Clive and Oneita leave without their kids, they could be barred from returning for ten years. The couple, along with their two youngest children, Christine, 15, and Timothy, 12, both U.S. citizens, now occupy a former dressing room for the church drama group, sharing the space with a string of blue school lockers.

ICE spokesman Emilio Dabul provided this statement about the Thompsons’ case:

“Oneita Thompson and Clive Thompson, both Jamaican nationals, overstayed their terms of admission to the U.S. by nearly 14 years. In September 2009, an immigration judge ordered them removed from the country. The pair appealed their case all the way up to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which dismissed their petition for review. ICE has granted them numerous stays of removal to allow them to make arrangements to depart the U.S., but even so, they failed to depart. They are currently immigration fugitives and subject to arrest and removal from the country once encountered by ICE.”

The two families settled into the church for about a week before going public, speaking to reporters and supporters on the church steps Wednesday morning. The Rev. Bob Coombe welcomed about 60 supporters into the church’s nave for a brief service. Both families are continuing to apply for a legal path to stay in the U.S. Reyes has applied for a visa available for victims of crime who cooperate with the police, called a U-visa.

Providing sanctuary and the advocacy it entails has also thrust FUMCOG back into the spotlight, said Coombe.

“I initially went into it thinking it was more passive, but to see their passion and the significance of having public presentations [about sanctuary] I think is really helpful,” he said.

As Philly ends ICE deal, immigrant advocacy group works to monitor law enforcement

It’s been more than a month since Mayor Jim Kenney announced that the city would not renew its contract with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement.

The preliminary arraignment reporting system, or PARS, agreement granted ICE access to a real-time database that local activists and community members said was being used to target  unauthorized immigrants.

After pressure from Abolish ICE protesters and meetings with activists, Kenney decided to end the arrangement.

Erika Almiron, the executive director of immigrant advocacy group Juntos, credited the change in policy to people who shared their negative experiences with city officials.

“I think that it was a lot of the leadership from this community actually being brave about telling what’s happening and what they want that led to that moment,” she said.

Juntos has been one of the leading organizations pushing for immigration changes, and ending the PARS agreement has been a fixture on its agenda.

With that resolution in the rear-view, the nonprofit plans to continue developing its initiative for monitoring law enforcement.

Starting in South Philadelphia, Juntos’ Community Resistance Zones program is a door-to-door effort to get city residents involved in alerting others when authorities target the unauthorized and, at times, interacting with law enforcement.

Well over 500 people have signed up, and 1,300 have had “know-your-rights” training since the program’s launch in November. The effort also will feature a hotline and app to send out real-time alerts.

The initiative is part of Juntos work in overarching criminal justice reform, Almiron said.

“We have an unaccountable police force,” she said. “We have an unaccountable ICE machine. We have a system that cages people that doesn’t work, both for deportation purposes and mass incarceration,” she said. “What’s the world that we want to see that is different?”

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