ICE Claims Middlesex County Put Residents at Risk; Middlesex Fires Back

Demonstrators march through New Brunswick last month, rallying for stronger protections for undocumented immigrants.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The day before county freeholders adopted a policy limiting jail and sheriff’s department staffers’ interactions with immigration authorities, the federal agency responsible for overseeing deportations blasted Middlesex for not complying with requests for assistance.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of Homeland Security, published a press release on May 31 touting the arrests of two undocumented immigrants. The announcement noted that Middlesex County had declined to keep the men in custody, as called for by ICE agents.

The Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted a policy the following day, June 1, stating that its officers would only accommodate ICE’s requests for 48-hour detentions of suspected undocumented immigrants if a judge had signed a warrant or the individual had previously been convicted of a first- or second-degree “serious offense,” according to the document.

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Pro-immigrant activists and county officials have spent much of this year discussing and tweaking the policy.

Activists have claimed the policy would safeguard human rights and build trust in immigrant communities, like New Brunswick. Middlesex County, meanwhile, argued the move would build protections against lawsuits.

But in the press release, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations Newark field office director, John Tsoukaris, posed a counter-argument.

“ICE shares the county’s ultimate objective to protect public safety and national security while simultaneously preserving the critical community-police bond,” he said. “However, counties such as Middlesex that fail to work with ICE in the transfer of custody of criminal aliens place the citizens of their communities at serious risk.”

Freeholder Director Ronald Rios told TAPinto New Brunswick that the county is indeed “dedicated” to keeping residents safe. He noted that Middlesex’s policy is in compliance with “all” state and federal laws.

“The ICE statement is just rhetoric,” he said. “We are here to serve the public, and we do so by following the law, not by reacting to political grandstanding by ICE, which is trying to strike fear into residents’ minds.”

ICE’s announcement stemmed from the arrests of a man from Mexico and another from Honduras.

The agency requested on April 14, 2016, that the county hold Elder Antonio Quintero Rodriguez, of Honduras, for ICE, according to the press release. The county jail released him on May 19 this year “without notifying ICE,” the agency said.

ICE noted that Quintero Rodriguez was previously convicted of neglecting a child. It wasn’t immediately clear if that crime is considered serious enough under the new policy to allow Middlesex County staffers to hand off the man to the feds.

ICE agents arrested him on May 30 in New Brunswick, they said.

On April 21, immigration agents requested a detainer from the county for Rolando Herrera Saaverda, of Mexico, according to the announcement. The jail discharged him on April 29, once again without tipping off ICE, the agency said.

That man is facing “state criminal charges,” according to ICE. Under the county’s new policy, officers and jail staff would not comply with an ICE request to hold an individual with pending charges.

Herrera Saaverda was later arrested by ICE in Long Branch.

Both men remain in ICE custody, “pending removal proceedings,” according to the agency.

“As a nation, we must protect the integrity of our immigration system and aggressively pursue the removal illegal criminal aliens,” Tsoukaris, the ICE director, said.

County officials, meanwhile, have received applause for their policy. What’s more, activists have called for the county to cement even stronger protections against ICE for undocumented immigrants.

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