Middlesex County News

Tonight: Freeholders Poised to Adopt Policy on Dealing with Immigration Authorities

Demonstrators march through New Brunswick last month, rallying for stronger protections for undocumented immigrants.
Teresa Vivar (right), standing next to the family member of a man detained by federal agents, speaks in favor of greater protections for undocumented immigrants at the county level.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — If one issue has dominated recent meetings of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, it’s how Middlesex County plans to deal with federal agents eyeing undocumented immigrants who are in custody or the courtroom.

Freeholder Director Ronald Rios plans to sponsor a policy governing those interactions and requests from the feds to detain immigrants for 48 hours at the board’s gathering tonight, June 1, according to the agenda. The measure is slated for adoption.

Pro-immigrant activists intend to speak during the meeting, according to a Facebook event. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. in the administration building, 75 Bayard St., New Brunswick.

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The past several board meetings have each spanned more than two hours. Activists and immigrants have taken to the microphone to lobby for the county to implement protections against federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

“This county is the example of good-hearted people,” Teresa Vivar, a New Brunswick-based activist who leads the advocacy group Lazos America Unida, said in early May. “I want you to help us, as well, and don’t continue [to let] ICE or the federal government criminalize a community.”

Vivar, who helps undocumented immigrants who are detained and their families, stood next to the wife of a man who had been detained by federal immigration authorities. The women cried as they asked for help.

Dozens of activists who spoke echoed Vivar’s comments. They said they want Middlesex’s jail to block ICE from interviewing undocumented immigrants. They also have rallied for written protections and guarantees that county workers won’t cooperate in any way with the feds.

County officials, meanwhile, have pledged their support for undocumented immigrants and the need to craft a policy in line with the law.

“We are trying to work out a minimal presence of ICE,” Freeholder Shanti Narra said on May 18. “I do want to assure people: This is not a situation where ICE is in and out. They don’t have an office there. They’re not hanging out with the sheriff’s officers, the detention center employees.”

Officials have taken time to come up with a sound policy regarding how county law enforcement interacts with federal immigration authorities, they said.

At first, in a policy drafted in late April, the county planned to only comply with ICE requests when agents presented a warrant signed by a judge or if the individual had been previously convicted of a first- or second-degree “serious” offense.

But in researching the matter, Middlesex officials found that cutting off ICE’s access to the county jail while accommodating other law enforcement officers could “raise issues,” Narra said.

The precise language of tonight’s proposed policy is unclear at this time. Narra, however, has said the county intends to require ICE agents to provide the names of their targets to jail officials. The detention center, meanwhile, would tell each subject their rights in a language they comprehend, she said.

Pro-immigrant activists, on the other hand, have pushed the county to block out ICE altogether. 

They said they also worried about how any policy might be implemented. For example, they asked, would the boots on the ground know not to tip off ICE or oblige detention requests that don’t fit the criteria?

The county and its law enforcement arms expect to train officers shortly after a policy is enshrined, officials said.

Any policy adopted by the county wouldn’t apply to municipal police departments or governments. It would affect operations at the jail and within the sheriff’s department.

What’s more, federal immigration authorities may continue to conduct raids or secure arrest warrants for undocumented immigrants, officials have said.

So far this year, just one resident has spoken out against protections for undocumented immigrations at the freeholders’ meetings.

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