County Adopts ICE Policy; Activists Say It’s a Good Start

Residents and activists read Middlesex County's policy last week on how its jail and sheriff's department must handle interactions with federal immigration authorities.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — After many impassioned pleas from residents and at least one rewrite, the Board of Chosen Freeholders has adopted a policy barring Middlesex County officers from aiding federal immigration authorities in most cases.

The board voted 6-0 to approve the policy on Thursday, June 1, in New Brunswick. A few dozen pro-immigrant activists there applauded the move. But they also asked county officials to consider implementing even stronger protections.

As they worked to write the policy, Middlesex officials said they hoped it would safeguard both undocumented immigrants and the county from potential legal battles.

Sign Up for E-News

“This is the intent of the current freeholder board, and hopefully it will remain this way,” Freeholder Shanti Narra, who led the creation of the new policy, said during the meeting.

The policy governs interactions between the county’s adult jail and sheriff’s department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of Homeland Security charged with deporting undocumented immigrants.

Middlesex County has one of the state’s largest populations of undocumented immigrants, activists said. New Brunswick alone is estimated to harbor at least 20,000, they said.

“It’s a good sign overall,” Tracy Cangiano, who lives in Highland Park, said of the policy “and I hope that after there’s an affirmative vote on this, that these policies and procedures that keep getting talked about … continue to be worked on.”

The policy forbids the jail and the sheriff’s department from complying with 48-hour civil detainer requests. ICE agents submit these forms when a jail or law enforcement agency has in custody someone the feds suspect of being in the country illegally. The requests are voluntary, which means local agencies may ignore them, according to the county.

But two situations exist in which county staffers must honor the ICE’s detention requests, according to the policy.

That includes when the individual in question has been convicted of a first- or second-degree “serious offense,” or the equivalent in another jurisdiction, the policy states. More than 20 crimes fit this bill—from murder, aggravated assault and arson to recruiting gang members, selling drugs and human trafficking.

The other scenario in which county officers must hold people on behalf of ICE is when the agents present a final order of deportation signed by a federal judge, according to the policy.

A young man speaks in favor of policies and protocols protecting undocumented immigrants.

What has perhaps energized activists most in recent weeks is ICE’s ability to interview suspected undocumented immigrants at the county jail.

In the policy, the freeholders said they will continue to grant ICE access to the facility. But jail staffers will provide targeted individuals with a “written fact sheet” outlining their rights prior to the interview, according to the policy.

Freeholders said they also intend to launch a “language line” to ensure inmates can understand the information, even if they can’t read. That protocol, however, isn’t in the policy, a fact that troubled some residents.

Sheriff’s officers may not “in any way assist” ICE employees in detaining someone who’s not in county custody, according to the policy. The exceptions? If it’s “necessary” to arrest someone for a “crime in progress” or in the “immediate interest of public safety,” according to the policy.

This became another pressure point for immigrants’ rights advocates, who claimed that at least one Middlesex County sheriff’s officer helped ICE detain a man in the courthouse this spring. County officials said they’re looking into the incident, but they had yet to have interviewed the employee in question.

Speakers wondered whether “public safety” was too broad a term, while county officials said the condition is necessary to maintain order.

Some members of the public who spoke took issue with 48-hour detainers being granted based on prior convictions.

Convicts are capable of rehabilitating, they said, and society already has protections against dangerous individuals. Some argued that the setting such boundaries makes the policy too vague.

“I am concerned that this policy classifies people as deserving of constitutional protections and people who are not,” one woman said.

County officials said the benchmark isn’t arbitrary. They based the criteria on crimes that the federal government considers an automatic cause for deportation, Narra said.

She added that each listed offense—like drugs, for instance—is serious.

“You would have to have an awful lot of weed,” she said in response to a resident who was concerned about small amounts of marijuana or cocaine tearing addicts or recreational users from their families.

Lawyers and leaders for several activist groups, like the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, Food and Water Watch and the Alliance for Immigrant Justice, praised the policy during the meeting. But they added that, at least in the eyes of the county’s undocumented population and its activists, the adopted policy should serve as a starting point, not a finish line.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Brunswick

The Jaffe Briefing - March 22, 2018


STATEWIDE - It's been excruciating to write about snow; there's only so much you can blindly repeat without sounding like a 24-hour news channel. The final totals: 14 inches in the central and southern part of the state, and at least 5 inches in all northern counties. Yippee.  As of 6 a.m. this morning, the utility companies were ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 21, 2018


STATEWIDE - Utility companies are dragging themselves back into the war room this morning, preparing for another day of downed wires, public scorn and mounting pressure from the governor's office to magically keep all the lights on. One would assume the utilities are still trying to patch up fragile networks from the back-to-back nor'easters that ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 20, 2018


NEW BRUNSWICK - The governor has targeted The Hub City as the new hub for innovation and technology. Gov. Phil Murphy was in town yesterday to meet with city, business and Rutgers officials to chat about how all the ongoing downtown investment will be a magnet for scientific and technological innovation, TAPInto New Brunswick reports. The ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 19, 2018


TRENTON - New Jersey, one of the only employers who pays its workers for unused sick time, and then appears mystified when it struggles to balance its budget, may finally be capping sick-leave payouts.  The proposal, obviously unpopular with labor unions, has been discussed before, but not with traction. It is back in the mix again, to cap payouts ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 16, 2018


ON THE RAILS - Another commuting mess this morning, as the antiquated Portal Bridge got stuck in the "up" position at 4:22 a.m.  That caused a bunch of rush hour trains to be cancelled between Newark and Manhattan for four hours or so.  Both NJTransit and Amtrak riders were completely screwed. You may recall the proposed Gateway ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 15, 2018


NEW BRUNSWICK - When you rent out apartments to Rutgers students, expect some surprises. But one landlord received a shocker beyond expectation: a $8,117.07 water bill for the last three months of 2017, TAPInto New Brunswick reports. The landlord went to the City Council meeting this week, pleading that the bill on his Comstock Street ...

Rutgers to close for Wednesday storm

March 20, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK - With the likelihood of more than a foot of snow set to dump on New Jersey, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi has declared a weather emergency closure for all three campuses: New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden.

School will be closed for students and all non-essential employees from 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 21 to 5 a.m. Thursday, March 22.

Rutgers Student on Front Lines of Orangutan Conservation, Research

NEW BRUNSWICK - Deep in a tropical forest in Borneo 15 years ago, Rutgers student Didik Prasetyo first encountered a young male orangutan that he named “Jerry.”

The great ape was one of several orangutans that Prasetyo and other researchers followed at the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station in the Mawas Conservation Area in Indonesia. Prasetyo was skeptical when colleagues said ...

RU police investigate assault on Douglass campus

NEW BRUNSWICK - Rutgers University police are investigating an aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault  reported to March 14 at 3:55 a.m. in front of Hickman Hall on the Douglass campus.


The victim, not affiliated with Rutgers University, reported that she was walking with a male whom she did not know in the area of Commercial Avenue and George ...

City opens 6th ‘supportive’ housing complex, 12 units provide aid people who lost homes

March 22, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK – In a continuing effort to eliminate homelessness, city and county officials this month opened 12 units of low-cost and subsidized housing in a complex designed to provide counseling and support services for its residents.

Zebra Way, named for the street on which it is located off Van Dyke Avenue, is expected to have residents move in next month.

Tenants, including ...


This National Literacy Month, Let's Rein In Screen Time

March 13, 2018

Dear Editor: As speech-language pathologists across New Jersey prepare to mark “National March into Literacy Month,” let’s address the alarming number of young children who spend countless hours a day on a handheld screen.

According to a study from the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, the more time that children under two years spend on smartphones, tablets and ...

Middlesex County Young Republicans Host "Road to Victory" Event at the Green Turtle

March 21, 2018

NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ -  Middlesex County Young Republican Chairman John Steiner would like to announce the Middlesex County Young Republicans "Road to Victory" Reception, which will take place on March 22 at the Green Turtle in North Brunswick from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM.

This event will serve as the official launch for the 2018 campaign season for the Middlesex ...