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At the urging of several town council members, the Princeton Police Department will issue an official protocol this month clarifying the department’s role in federal immigration law enforcement. Confirming the department’s current practice, the protocol will publicly declare that the department will not become involved in raids by federal immigration authorities and will not investigate the legal status of immigrants who are arrested for minor violations.

The resolution aims to inform the Princeton community—particularly immigrants — that law enforcement authorities "are not all the same," Princeton Police Capt. Nick Sutter said.

"We [as local police] have a different charge than the federal authorities do," Sutter added.

The resolution will not alter the department's current procedures in any way, Sutter said, as the department has generally stayed out of federal immigration enforcement in the past. Currently, local police officers neither conduct immigration checks as part of daily law enforcement nor participate in raids led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal body.

This separation of authority has caused misunderstandings. When ICE conducted a raid of Princeton resident Jose Ramirez's home on Sept. 4, Ramirez's roommate reported to Princeton police that his roommate had been taken away. ICE typically contacts local authorities prior to a raid as a courtesy, but in this case the ICE officers did not. In response to the call, Princeton Police dispatched several officers to the scene in order to eliminate the possibility of criminal activity.

This case, Sutter said, is indicative of a perception held by many local immigrants “that the police are the police regardless of their affiliation.” Local residents often do not distinguish between the federal ICE authorities who conduct these raids and the local policemen who respond to 911 calls, leading to confusion and disorder during such raids, Sutter said.

The aim of this resolution is to foster a better relationship between the immigrant community and the Princeton police, Sutter explained. Fears of deportation or criminal charges can prevent illegal immigrants from coming forward as either witnesses or victims of crimes, although these fears are largely unfounded. In fact, Sutter said, local police do not look into the immigration status of a potential witness or victim except in rare cases when ordered to do so by a higher federal authority.

While the protocol does not make Princeton a sanctuary for immigrants, the department says it intends to send a clear signal to the immigrant community that local police are not seeking their deportation.

Princeton is the latest of many New Jersey municipalities, including Trenton, Hightstown and Newark, to make a declaration regarding the separation between local and federal immigration enforcement responsibilities.The Princeton action wasproposed in early Septemberas a Council resolution by a council subcommittee in consultation with Sutter and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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