NEWARK -- The ACLU of New Jersey is asking the state Department of Human Services and state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to make public the “directive” issued by Gov. Chris Christie that bars state agencies from assisting in the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in New Jersey.
In a request made through the Open Public Record Act (OPRA), the ACLU-NJ seeks further detail about the plan envisioned by the governor, including documentation of his directive and documents showing how the agencies are implementing the directive.
Christie first mentioned the directive in a Nov. 17 letter to President Obama in which he declared the state will not accept any refuges from Syria.
“Effective today, I am directing the New Jersey Department of Human Services not to participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in the State of New Jersey,” Christie wrote, “and am requesting that all nongovernmental organizations assisting with the resettlement of refugees in New Jersey notify the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and Department of Human Services of their placement of any refugees from Syria.”
So far, 75 refugees from Syria have been resettled in New Jersey, according to social service agencies. The Obama Administration is considering allowing thousands more resettle in the U.S.
NEWARK - The ACLU of New Jersey strongly condemned New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for telling President Barack Obama today that New Jersey will not accept refugees from Syria. Governor Christie’s letter to President Obama follows Christie’s Nov. 16 statement to radio host Hugh Hewitt that the U.S. should not admit any Syrian refugees, even “orphans under five.”
New Jersey has taken in 75 refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria since the beginning of January, making it the ninth highest state in terms of accepting refugees this year. Since 2012, 1,854 Syrian refugees have settled in the U.S.
The following statement is attributable to ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer:
“As New Jerseyans, we’re deeply disappointed that Governor Christie would turn his back on refugees who are trying to escape exactly what he fears: terrorism. This kind of fear-mongering blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it erodes our civil rights and civil liberties.
“Resettlement of refugees is a matter handled by the U.S. State Department, not individual governors. States don’t have veto power in this area, and it would violate the Constitution for a governor to bar an entire group of refugees based on nationality, religion, race, or ethnicity.
“New Jersey in particular has been a haven for those who need refuge the most, and Christie’s sentiments go against American principles and the principles of the people of our state. We stand in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France commemorating our revolutionary devotion to freedom and a symbol of welcome to immigrants the world over.
“Christie’s extreme response to the question of Syrian refugees underestimates the safeguards in place to ensure our security. The United States is known for being painstakingly rigorous in screening refugees seeking to resettle in America. Christie’s blanket refusal to consider accepting even a small part of the largest flow of humanity since the Second World War speaks to an indiscriminate distrust of people who seek better lives on our shores.”
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey sent a letter to Hightstown Mayor Lawrence Quattrone (PDF) asking him to clarify Hightstown Police Department policy in light of remarks attributed to him in a Times of Trenton news story with the headline: Hightstown mayor: We are not a ‘sanctuary city.’
The story quoted the mayor saying, “If you get stopped for anything, [Hightstown police] will check your status … If you have wants or warrants against you, whether you’re a U.S. citizen, Latino, Greek, or Italian, your status will be checked and if there’s any problem, you will be turned over.”
A directive issued by the New Jersey Attorney General in 2007 instructs law enforcement officers to inquire about an individual’s immigration status only when arrested for indictable offenses or DUI offenses. A policy of routinely checking the immigration status of people stopped by police would be outside of that directive and raise serious civil rights concerns.
“Unnecessarily involving your officers in immigration enforcement undermines the public safety, rather than strengthening it,” the letter said.
The letter asks Quattrone to publicly clarify his statements; to make clear that Hightstown Police Department policies go no further in questioning individuals’ immigration status than is required by law; and to provide documentation of the department’s policies for dealing with immigrants or people thought to be immigrants.
NEWARK – As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie prepares to announce his candidacy today for president of the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) reissued its report card on his first term in office.
Christie earned a grade of D+ for his record on civil liberties and civil rights. Now into his second term, Christie not only continues his poor performance, but raises new concerns about his record on key matters of constitutional rights.
“As Americans begin to consider candidates for the presidency, it is vitally important that they are informed about their candidates’ records on constitutional rights and freedoms,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “We hope that this guide will help voters become more informed about Governor Christie’s stance on key civil liberties and civil rights issues.”
The ACLU-NJ report card graded Christie on 12 crucial civil rights and liberties matters: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, privacy, LGBT rights, criminal justice and drug policy, transparency, separation of powers, and economic justice.
“Governor Christie’s record on civil liberties and civil rights has been a poor one,” said Ofer. “Some of his most frustrating moments have been those times when he paid lip service to the protection of rights but failed to back up words with actions. For gay and lesbian New Jerseyans seeking to marry, sick patients in need of medical marijuana, or New Jerseyans seeking to learn basic information about their state government, the Christie administration has been a failure.”
Christie’s lowest grades were in the areas of transparency, separation of church and state, and separation of powers. The governor earned higher marks in other areas, such as freedom of religion. Following are some highlights (and lowlights).
Christie’s second-term has raised other civil liberties and rights concerns. He has opposed early, in-person voting, dismissing it as an attempt at voter fraud despite the lack of evidence to support such claims. And eight months ago his administration issued an order requiring the detention of medical workers returning from one of three West African countries where they treated Ebola patients, even if they were asymptomatic. The decision was widely criticized by the medical community following the detention of a nurse, Kaci Hickox, at Newark Liberty International Airport. In the face of public pressure, he eventually released Hickox.
Finally, Christie has repeatedly stated that the Patriot Act does not violate civil liberties, despite the fact that numerous federal courts have found provisions of the Act to be unconstitutional and to violate civil liberties.
NEWARK – The largest city in the state of New Jersey, with over 280,000 residents, has approved an ordinance to create a municipal identification card program for all city residents, making it the first municipality in New Jersey to do so. The Newark Municipal Council voted unanimously to create a city-issued ID eligible to all residents aged 14 and older. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is expected to sign the ordinance soon.
The municipal ID card will benefit all residents of Newark, including marginalized communities such as immigrants, people with disabilities, the young and elderly, formerly-incarcerated people, the homeless, and transgender individuals.
The measure was backed by the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. The ACLU-NJ, a member of the alliance's executive committee, praised the leadership of the coalition and the city.
“Newark's ID card program is a bold step forward for public safety and civil rights,” said American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “It will help ensure all city residents have equal access to basic services and police protection. Newark’s tremendous leadership in promoting compassion and advancing justice should inspire municipalities across the state to follow its lead. We look forward to continuing to work with Newark to ensure that all residents—regardless of immigration status, gender identity, age, criminal history, or housing status—are able to use their Newark IDs to protect their rights and improve their lives.”
While Newark is the first municipality in the state to issue this form of identification, other cities around the country, including New Haven, New York City, and San Francisco, have instituted similar programs.
Highlights of the ID program include:
“This is a good day for Newark residents who are already part of our communities but lack documentation,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ Vice President and New Jersey State Director. “Newark’s Municipal ID program will give immigrants, the homeless and other disenfranchised Newarkers more opportunities to improve their lives and build a bright future for their families.”
This form of identification provides peace of mind to residents in the city who are unable to obtain other forms of identification, including undocumented immigrants.
"The municipal IDs are a great step towards justice for immigrants, who work so hard but often need to stay in the shadows of fear," said Rev. Moacir Weirich, pastor of St. Stephen's Grace Community Church and a member of Faith In New Jersey. "With the IDs people will feel more secure and welcomed into our community where they live, work, and contribute."
Lacking a government-issued identification can discourage people from contacting police to report crimes or from participating as witnesses in criminal investigations. Victims of crimes are less likely to be identified, which can also hinder notification of their loved ones.
“The members and supporters of NJ Communities United applaud Mayor Baraka as he takes this step to ensure economic opportunities and public safety for immigrant families in Newark,” said Trina Scordo, Executive Director, New Jersey Communities United. “It is our hope that Newark will be the model for municipalities across the state in establishing human rights and dignity for immigrant communities.”
The most common form of government-issued identification is a driver's license. Both driver's licenses and non-driver state identification cards require proof of immigration status, preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining them. Immigrants living in Newark will now be eligible to use a combination of documents verified by the City to obtain an official ID and use it in their everyday lives in Newark.
“We applaud the Mayor, the Council and the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs and Diaspora’s leadership,” said Alix Nguefack, Detention Program Coordinator, American Friends Service Committee. “This policy recognizes the fact that New Jersey is the state with the third largest immigrant population and that much of this population resides in the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area.”
The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice launched a campaign in March, New Jersey For All, which aims to advance policies that address the lack of government-issued identification in the immigrant community, wage theft, the need for expanded access to driver's licenses, and the separation of immigrant families.
The Alliance views the passage of a municipal ID ordinance in Newark to be a great first step in the growing momentum from immigrant communities organizing to make New Jersey a more immigrant-friendly state.
NJAIJ Member Organizations: 1199SEIU | 32BJ SEIU | American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey | American Friends Service Committee | Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen | Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton | Centro Comunitario CEUS | Community of Friends in Action | El Centro Hispanoamericano | Faith in New Jersey | First Friends NJ & NY | Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East | Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey | Ironbound Community Corp. | La Fuente, a Tri-State Worker & Community Fund, Inc. | Make the Road New Jersey | National Association of Social Workers – NJ Chapter | New Jersey Communities United | New Jersey Policy Perspective | New Labor | Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc. | Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of NJ | Wind of the Spirit
NEWARK - The New Jersey Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in Guaman v. Velez, an immigrant rights case in which the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey submitted an amicus brief (PDF) challenging the state’s discriminatory cuts to a state health insurance program for low-wage workers.
The lawsuit challenges the state policy that denied participation in the state’s FamilyCare program to immigrants who have been lawful permanent residents less than five years. New Jersey FamilyCare is a state-funded Medicaid program that provides subsidized health insurance to qualifying low-income adults and children. At least 12,000 working residents, who would be otherwise eligible for the program, are affected by these cuts.
The ACLU-NJ’s brief argues that New Jersey violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the laws. The state Appellate Court ruled in August 2013 that the state was permitted to exclude the lawful permanent residents because it linked it’s policy to a “uniform federal standard” governing all Medicaid funding.
The following statement about the case and the oral arguments may be attributed to Edward Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of NJ:
“The imposition of a residency requirement on otherwise-eligible lawful permanent residents — requirements not placed on citizens — violates both the federal and state constitutional guarantee to equal protection.
“The issue is all the more important because of the health care consequences to thousands of working residents. The State's decision to deny benefits can result in more high-cost emergency room visits, a lack of preventative care, and seriously ill individuals who delay seeking treatment.”
Acting Dean of Rutgers Law School – Newark Ronald Chen argued the case on behalf of the ACLU-NJ.
NEWARK -- President Obama's historic announcement on immigration will keep together tens of thousands of families in New Jersey and provide substantial relief to undocumented immigrants who face a constant threat of deportation.
“The ACLU of New Jersey strongly supports the President’s actions on immigration reform. Our broken immigration system, which has festered for decades and created a nation where millions live in the shadows, has led to a civil and human rights crisis. Thanks to President Obama, potentially hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents will be able to put the fear of deportation behind them, for now,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer said. “However, the President's actions are not a substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform that our country has needed for so long.”
Along with the President's statement last night, a series of memoranda detailed the exact policy changes outlined in the remarks. Some of these changes, especially to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies, will directly affect the relationship between state and local law enforcement in New Jersey.
While the embattled Secure Communities Program, which fueled the rise of thousands of immigration detainer requests by ICE to state and local jails, will be dismantled, it will be replaced by the Priorities Enforcement Program (PEP). The onerous requirement that local jails share all fingerprints of arrestees with ICE will continue under the new program, but rather than asking local jails to detain those suspected of civil immigration offenses, ICE is now asking local jails to notify them upon release of such a person. The new program continues the use of detainer requests in unspecified “special circumstances.”
"The revisions are a welcome validation of years of hard work by the ACLU, together with immigrant communities and local policymakers and law enforcement leaders, to show that ICE’s practices damaged public safety, fostered distrust between immigrant communities and police, and were a civil rights disaster,” ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin said.
However, other details of the new ICE practices remain unclear, as does the real effect of the program revisions.
“As long as local law enforcement in New Jersey remains involved in facilitating the deportation of New Jersey families, whether honoring warrantless detainer requests or notifying ICE of inmates' release, distrust between immigrant communities and police will persist and public safety will continue to suffer,” ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alex Shalom said.
NEWARK – Union County has become the first New Jersey county to formally adopt a policy declining to hold (PDF) individuals in its jail based on requests issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The move comes in response to a July 15, 2014, request (PDF) from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ).
ICE routinely issues requests to jails and law enforcement agencies to hold people detained in their facilities for up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) longer than they would otherwise be released because of suspected civil immigration offenses. Until recently, all New Jersey’s county jails routinely honored those requests although they are not legally binding.
Union County’s new practice, in effect as of August 4, 2014, requires the Union County Department of Corrections to release individuals on their scheduled release date unless county officials receive a warrant, court order or other legally sufficient proof of probable cause from ICE. According to ICE data reported by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, between October 2011 and August 2013, Union County received at least 326 detainer requests, sixty percent of which were aimed at individuals who had not been convicted of any criminal offense.
“We applaud Union County officials for recognizing the critical importance of fostering trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement,” said Ari Rosmarin, Public Policy Director at the ACLU-NJ. “The county has discontinued a practice that seriously undermined public safety, posed significant constitutional concerns, and exposed the county to significant liability. We hope and expect other New Jersey counties will follow Union’s lead in adopting similar policies.”
At least two other New Jersey counties have also indicated that they will limit the practice of honoring detainer requests. Both Ocean (PDF) and Middlesex (PDF) Counties will now follow a policy to honor detainer requests only for individuals charged with certain crimes. While these policies represent progress, they both fail at insulating the counties from liability and at sending a clear message to immigrant communities that the counties are not in the business of enforcing immigration law for the federal government. The ACLU-NJ has also been made aware that Camden County has formally changed its policy with regard to honoring immigration detainer requests. However, the ACLU-NJ has not received a copy of Camden’s policy and therefore its contours remain uncertain at this time.
“It is an improvement when even one fewer person is unlawfully held in jail,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Even so, counties that honor any detainer requests not only ignore the constitutional rights of detainees, but they also shortchange community trust and public safety, all while risking enormous financial consequences. Union County’s approach serves all of the county’s residents and serves as a model for the state and nation.”
Immigration detainers transfer the costs and responsibilities of immigration enforcement from the federal government to local jurisdictions, which lack the resources and authority to enforce immigration law. New Jersey jails have no authority under New Jersey law to deprive people of their liberty based solely on an immigration detainer request. In Galarza v. Szalczyk, a 2014 Third Circuit case brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project involving the detention of a Perth Amboy-born man at the request of ICE, Lehigh County, Pa., paid out a nearly $100,000 settlement for unlawfully keeping him in custody. As a result, the Lehigh County Board of Commissions voted unanimously to end the county’s policy of imprisoning people based on ICE detainer requests.
Recent months have given rise to a national wave of local jurisdictions issuing policies refusing to honor ICE detainer requests. To date, over 160 jurisdictions outside of New Jersey have decided to stop automatically honoring detainer requests, including Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and the states of California and Connecticut.
Recently, several federal courts have made clear that detainer requests are non-binding and that local authorities, and not ICE, are ultimately liable for violations of constitutional rights that result from honoring immigration detainer requests. The ACLU-NJ letter made clear that the organization is prepared to take legal action should a prisoner in New Jersey custody be held unconstitutionally as a result of an ICE detainer request. The ACLU-NJ also warned counties that unless they decline to honor any ICE detainer requests without judicial findings of probable cause or warrant, they expose themselves to unnecessary liability.
The ACLU-NJ, in partnership with immigrants’ rights, community, and faith organizations across New Jersey, will continue to urge counties statewide to follow Union County’s lead and end their policies of choosing to honor ICE detainer requests.
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent letters to officials in all 21 New Jersey counties (PDF) urging them to stop honoring warrantless immigration detainer requests issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE routinely issues these requests to jails and law enforcement agencies to hold people detained in their facilities for up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) longer than they would otherwise be released because of suspected civil immigration offenses. New Jersey’s county jails routinely honor these requests although they are not legally binding.
“New Jersey’s county jails should be on notice that immigration detainer requests do not give license to wrongfully hold someone without probable cause or a warrant,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “By choosing to honor these optional requests, New Jersey counties undermine public safety by diminishing immigrant communities’ trust in local law enforcement and raise the prospect of significant constitutional violations.”
According to ICE data reported by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, New Jersey county jails received at least 5,844 such detainer requests from ICE between October 2011 and August 2013. Nearly two-thirds of those requests were lodged against individuals who had not been convicted of any offense.
Recently, several federal courts have made clear that detainer requests are non-binding and that local authorities, and not ICE, are ultimately liable for violations of constitutional rights that result from honoring immigration detainer requests. The ACLU-NJ letter makes clear that the organization is prepared to take legal action should a prisoner in New Jersey custody be held unconstitutionally as a result of an ICE detainer request.
“If county officials are not moved to stop honoring detainer requests out of respect for the constitutional rights of detainees or the desire to build community trust and public safety, they should still act out of economic self-interest,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Looking at the settlements that counties around the country have paid out for unlawfully holding prisoners at ICE’s request makes clear that honoring immigration detainer requests simply doesn’t pay.”
In August 2013, the ACLU-NJ and its partners worked with former Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Police Director Samuel DeMaio to make Newark the first New Jersey jurisdiction to adopt a formal policy of rejecting warrantless immigration detainers. Princeton followed suit with its own limited detainer policy in November 2013. In July 2014, Middlesex County became the first New Jersey county to acknowledge that ICE detainer requests are not mandatory and amend its detainer request policy.
Recent months have given rise to a national wave of local jurisdictions issuing policies refusing to honor ICE detainer requests. To date, 153 jurisdictions outside of New Jersey have decided they would no longer automatically honor detainer requests, including Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and the states of California and Connecticut.
Detainer requests are not legally binding warrants and ICE regularly issues them without probable cause, the legal standard required for an arrest. Such requests are not approved by a judge and they do not mean there has been an official finding that the subject of the request is undocumented or deportable. Indeed, ICE has wrongfully issued detainer requests against hundreds of United States citizens. The ACLU-NJ letter warns counties that to avoid liability they should decline to honor ICE detainer requests without a judicial finding of probable cause or a warrant.
Immigration detainers transfer the costs and responsibilities of immigration enforcement from the federal government to local jurisdictions, which lack the resources and authority to enforce immigration law. New Jersey jails have no authority under New Jersey law to deprive people of their liberty based solely on an immigration detainer request. In Galarza v. Szalczyk, a 2014 Third Circuit case brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU Immigrants Rights’ Project involving the detention of a Perth Amboy-born man at the request of ICE, Lehigh County, Pa., paid out a nearly $100,000 settlement for unlawfully keeping him in custody. As a result, the Lehigh County Board of Commissions voted unanimously to end the county’s policy of imprisoning people based on ICE detainer requests.
Immigrant community advocates and leaders throughout New Jersey echo the call for New Jersey’s counties to stop honoring ICE detainer requests:
View a more detailed breakdown of ICE detainer requests issued in New Jersey by county and facility in this Syracuse University report about ICE detainer trends nationwide.
On June 9, 2014, a week after the ACLU-NJ filed seven lawsuits against school districts with enrollment policies that discriminated against immigrant families, all seven of those districts came into compliance with the law. The districts – Audubon, Gloucester Township and Somerdale Park in Camden County; North Brunswick, Old Bridge Township and Perth Amboy, in Middlesex County; and Galloway Township in Atlantic County – had previously required parents to present state-issued photo ID as a condition of enrollment. To enroll children in local public schools, parents need only two things: proof of a child’s age and proof of residency in the school district.
The following statement is from Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey.
“A week after the ACLU-NJ filed seven lawsuits against seven school districts for discriminating against immigrant families, all seven districts have agreed to comply with constitutional and state law. These rapid settlements stand as a testament to the lack of ambiguity in the law on discrimination in school enrollment.
All seven had websites that indicated that parents were required to present state-issued photo ID as a precondition of enrolling their child in school, which runs counter to the spirit and the letter of the law.
Fortunately, these schools for the most part quickly acknowledged the need to change their policies. Some explained that they had never finalized changes to the regulations that were under way.
Unfortunately, several New Jersey school districts still ask parents to present identification or erect other improper barriers before parents can enroll their children. The ACLU-NJ will contact these districts in the coming weeks and expects all New Jersey school districts to abide by state and federal law before the start of the next school year.”