Town council develops resolution to clarify local police non-involvement in federal immigration enforcement| Sep 18, 2013
A Princeton town council subcommittee is in the process of developing a plan that would clarify local law enforcement’s role — or lack thereof — in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Heather Howard, the Princeton Council’s liaison to the subcommittee developing the resolution, said it would clearly differentiate the role of local police from that of federal immigration officials. The resolution would inform members of the Princeton community that local law enforcement officers do not conduct immigration checks during their daily enforcement of state and local laws and do not participate in immigration raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“We’re drawing a line and saying our priority is enforcing state and local laws,” Howard said. “It’s not our responsibility to enforce ... immigration laws.”
The council subcommittee is working with the Princeton-based Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. LALDEF Executive Director Martina Juega said the resolution would help stand up to efforts by federal officials to involve local police in enforcement of immigration law.
“[The federal government] is misspending and misapplying resources in this country … by engaging local police department in immigration enforcement activities,” Juega said.
Currently, ICE, which did not respond to a request for comment, has the ability to ask that local law enforcement officials detain immigrants who have been picked up or stopped for a wide range of criminal offenses both large and small. If the request — called a “detainer” — is granted by local police, the immigrant in question is held while ICE decides whether or not to pick them up and charge them with immigration violations.
Howard and Juega both explained they believe this melding of local policing and immigration enforcement is detrimental both to public safety and to the peace of mind of Princeton’s growing immigrant community.The resolution would signal Princeton law enforcement’s refusal to cooperate with detainers issued for immigrants who have only committed minor legal violations, they said.
“These [detainers] are the kinds of situations that we do not want our police department to be involved [in],” Juega said.
A staff attorney at New Jersey State League of Municipalities declined to comment, citing the controversiality of the issue.
Princeton Chief of Police Nick Sutter said that the resolution would serve as a clarification of policies that the local police already follows. He agreed with Juega and Howard that such clarification would be good for the relationship between local police and the immigrant community.
Howard said the plan would designate Princeton a “sanctuary city” for immigrants, but Juega said the term “sanctuary” wasn’t correct, as the resolution would not actually affect how and when immigration law is enforced by federal officials.
“ 'Sanctuary'has been used as a term for providing safe refuge for immigrants in the past,” Juega explained. “What’s in discussion in Princeton has nothing to do with that.”
Indeed, Howard noted that the proposed policy doesn’t mean that the federal government “can’t come in.” Instead, it means only that the local police won’t be involved.
According to Sutter, local police aren't involved in raids now either.
“We don’t engage in [raids] in any way, shape or form,” Sutter said.
Despite differences in terminology, Howard and Juega both said that the resolution would improve the relationship between the local immigrant community and local law enforcement.
Both Juega and Howard cited a recent ICE raid that occurred in Princeton as an example of the community tension and confusion that can arise when immigration laws are enforced locally.
Federal ICE officers raided a Princeton resident’s home last week, taking a man from his house on Witherspoon Street. The officers didn’t leave any identifying information, and the man’s family didn’t know out who had taken him or where he was, according to Juega and Howard.
“That’s the modus operandi of Immigration Customs Enforcement, unfortunately,” Juega said.
The taken man’s family called the local police, but local law enforcement had not been informed of the raid, Howard said. Only after much confusion was it discovered that the officers were immigration officials. It was the first ICE raid locally since 2004, Sutter said.
Howard said that both Sutter and local Congressman Rush Holt called ICE to express concern over last week’s raid and subsequent miscommunication.
Howard noted she fears that such incidents erode the trust of the immigrant community and make them less willing to interact with police, adding that there have been numerous occurrences where victims and witnesses were hesitant to come forward after a crime was committed due to concern over their immigration status.This new plan, she said, would be a big step in alleviating such fears.
“[The resolution] is good for public safety, and it’s good for human rights,” Howard said.
Princeton would not be the first city in New Jersey to have adopted such a resolution.Trenton and Hightstown have made similar statements, and the Newark Police Department also recently issued a statement refusing to detain people accused of minor crimes who might also be suspected of having illegal immigration status.
Although Princeton may soon join the ranks of these other New Jersey cities, there’s no set date for the release of the plan as of yet, though Howard said the subcommittee was making substantial progress and hoped to get the resolution out this fall.