NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Days after federal authorities blasted Middlesex County for releasing undocumented immigrants from the county jail, residents praised the freeholder board for taking a stand against what they called illegal efforts to detain people.
"Middlesex County is simply upholding the law by refusing to detain people who judges have determined are eligible for release. To do other, without a judicial warrant, is unlawful and threatens the rights of all," Jessica Hunsdon, a member of the grassroots group ACLU People Power Middlesex County, said.
"Thank you again for your commitment to upholding the constitution and the fourth amendment," the Highland Park resident told the freeholders during a Thursday meeting.
On Monday, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that its Newark office had arrested 37 people in Middlesex County over a five-day operation last week in its "ongoing public safety efforts."
ICE officials said 16 of the "targeted criminal aliens" had previously been incarcerated at the Middlesex County Adult Corrections center, the county jail, and "were subsequently released to the community without honoring the ICE detainer or advising ICE of their release."
Ruben Perez, acting director of enforcement and removal at the Newark office, criticized the county for releasing the 16 immigrants.
“Middlesex County, which aspires to be a ‘sanctuary county’ by protecting criminal aliens, in the process assists criminals in undermining federal law, and creates a dangerous environment in the community," Perez said in a statement. "ICE will continue to execute its mission in such communities,” he said.
Slightly more than a year ago, in June 2017, Middlesex County adopted a policy that people would not be held at the jail solely on a an ICE detainer, but would be held if a judge issued a warrant for a person's arrest.
On Monday, after ICE announced the arrest of the 37 people, Middlesex County officials responded with a statement denying that they are a sanctuary county.
"ICE representatives have been repeatedly advised that the county will honor every order issued by a federal judge to detain an inmate," county officials said in a statement. They said ICE has the authority to seek warrants for anybody the agency wants to detain or deport.
County officials also said that holding an inmate at the jail beyond the scheduled date of their release could result in claims of false imprisonment if the inmate is ultimately acquitted of the charges that resulted in their being brought to the jail.
"The county’s responsibility in these instances is to protect the County taxpayers against such liability claims.," officials said.
They said the county honors detainer requests for an inmate previously convicted of a first- or second-degree crimes, or if an inmate was the subject of a federal court judge final deportation order. These detentions, officials said were in the interest of public safety.
Hunsdon, speaking to the freeholders Thursday night, called the ICE sweep "retaliatory" against the county.
"This is appalling," Hunsdon said. ICE agents, she said "consistently use practices which violate constitutional and civil rights, vilify immigrants and separate families," she said, her comments drawing applause from the more than 50 people in audience.
People also applauded New Brunswick resident Bobby Rozenberg after he thanked the freeholders for refusing to detain immigrants. Rosenberg said he had serve in the U.S. Army, and that his great uncle, Solomon Cohen, was a veteran of WW II who participated in the liberation of concentration camps in Europe.
The freeholders, Rozenberg said, "weren't deterred by the bullying tactics coming out of Washington."