Salem County Urged to Reject Immigration Enforcement Role

July 5, 2016

Agreement with ICE would compromise public safety and harm NJ communities, 42 diverse organizations say in letter

Concerned about public safety and civil rights, 42 organizations jointly sent a letter (PDF) to Salem County urging the county Sheriff's Office not to join a voluntary federal program that deputizes local law enforcement officers to perform the functions of federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents. The program, known as 287(g) in reference to a provision in federal immigration law, has been rejected by most law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Salem County is seeking to have officers in the Salem County Correctional Facility deputized under the program.

Deputizing local officers as ICE agents jeopardizes public safety by deterring immigrants and their loved ones from interacting with police and reporting crimes based on fears that they or friends and family may wind up in deportation proceedings.

"Voluntarily applying for a 287(g) contract sends the message that deportation is a potential consequence of any interaction with law enforcement," the letter said.

The letter was sent from civil rights organizations, immigrants' rights advocates, faith-based institutions, and legal service groups from across the state, including the ACLU of New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee and New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, for just a few examples.

"Law enforcement should be focused on building stronger ties with the communities they serve, not fraying them by stoking fear among immigrant communities," said Chia-Chia Wang, organizing and advocacy director at the American Friends Service Committee. "Families need to know that local law enforcement is focused on community safety, not running a deportation operation."

Agreements under 287(g) have led to civil rights abuses, most notoriously under Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose 287(g) agreement was terminated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after a federal investigation revealed racial profiling and discrimination. The number of participating jurisdictions across the country has dropped from 77 in 2009 to 32 in 2016, as law enforcement has abandoned the program based on public safety and civil rights concerns.

Two other county jails, in Hudson and Monmouth, have 287(g) contracts with ICE, although the most recent contracts expired June 30. Following years of advocacy against the program by many of the same groups who signed the letter, news reports have indicated that Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise may be leaning toward not renewing that county's contract.

"As law enforcement agencies all over the country have fled the failed 287(g) program in droves, Salem County is looking to swim upstream to become a national outlier," said Ari Rosmarin, public policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. "New Jersey has long been a state that protects and embraces its immigrant communities. If it continues down this path, Salem County will be sending the opposite message: immigrants not welcome."

To the knowledge of the organizations signing the letter, Salem County has held no public discussions nor sought any public input on the decision to apply to participate in the program, despite county officials having interacted with ICE about the program since at least October 2015, based on correspondence between the agencies obtained from a public records request by the ACLU of New Jersey.

"Attempting to move forward with this contract without public input does a disservice to the democratic process and diminishes the legitimacy of this decision," the letter said.

"These kinds of controversial agreements change the nature of law enforcement in the county and impact safety, civil rights, and accountability," said Johanna Calle, program coordinator of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. "But despite the controversy and the demonstrated harms surrounding this program, Salem County officials have decided to proceed only through private, backroom discussions. The public, including immigrant communities and other community stakeholders in Salem County, must have a say in how local law enforcement agencies do business."

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