287(g) and Morristown, New Jersey

A dis­patch from SAALT’s New Jer­sey Out­reach Coor­di­na­tor, Qudsia Raja, on state and local enforce­ment of immi­gra­tion laws and what it means in NJ.

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As advo­cates and com­mu­ni­ties nation­wide mobi­lize to cam­paign for more just and humane immi­gra­tion laws in the US, New Jer­sey res­i­dents pre­pare to cope with the actu­al­iza­tion of ten­ta­tive­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry man­dates that will, if put into place, adverse­ly affect the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty in the state. 287(g), a fed­er­al immi­gra­tion pro­gram ini­ti­at­ed by Immi­gra­tions and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), allows for local law enforce­ment agen­cies to go beyond their call of duty of enforc­ing local and state laws by addi­tion­al­ly allow­ing them the lib­er­ty to enforce fed­er­al immi­gra­tion laws.

Ear­li­er this year, sev­er­al coun­ties in New Jer­sey, includ­ing Mor­ris, Hud­son, and Mon­mouth Coun­ties, applied to become a part of the 287(g) pro­gram. Mor­ris­town was approved for the pro­gram last month, and May­or David Cre­sitel­lo has every inten­tion of sign­ing onto the pro­gram, which would be in effect for 3 years.

The idea of dep­u­tiz­ing local law enforce­ment agen­cies has long been con­tro­ver­sial, with strong advo­cates on both ends of the debate hold­ing firm to their beliefs on whether the pro­gram should or should not be put into place. SAALT, like many oth­er immi­grant advo­cates local­ly and nation­wide, believes that 287(g) does in fact neg­a­tive­ly impact the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty at large. By dep­u­tiz­ing law enforce­ment, we would essen­tial­ly be cre­at­ing a bar­ri­er between law enforce­ment and the com­mu­ni­ties they are sworn in to serve – an irony so obvi­ous that I can’t seem to under­stand why some pub­lic offi­cials are so adamant about putting the man­date into place.

Con­sid­er this. New Jer­sey is not only home to a large, diverse, and emerg­ing immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty, but also thrives eco­nom­i­cal­ly because of the con­tri­bu­tions of this very com­mu­ni­ty, accord­ing to a report pub­lished ear­li­er this year by Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty. As an emerg­ing com­mu­ni­ty, how­ev­er, com­ing from numer­ous cul­tur­al, lin­guis­tic, eth­nic, and reli­gious back­grounds, it’s impor­tant for us as pub­lic offi­cials, advo­cates, ser­vice providers and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to be mind­ful of the needs of our fel­low com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. These needs could range from being aware of cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic needs in access­ing basic gov­ern­ment and pub­lic ser­vices; nav­i­ga­tion the school, med­ical, and legal sys­tems; and address­ing racial and reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion tar­get­ed towards immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, often more vul­ner­a­ble when they are unable to com­mu­ni­cate because they are lim­it­ed-Eng­lish pro­fi­cient (LEP), or because they are unaware of the prop­er chan­nels avail­able to them to report inci­dences and crimes of the sort. Addi­tion­al­ly, many immi­grants migrate from coun­tries where the rule of law is often cor­rupt, mak­ing them fear­ful of approach­ing (or being approached by) law enforce­ment.

287(g) has been crit­i­cized by immi­grant advo­cates for many jus­ti­fied rea­sons, one of the most dis­con­cert­ing being that the man­date would allow for local law enforce­ment to essen­tial­ly pro­file immi­grant con­stituents in the process of mak­ing arrests based on ‘sus­pi­cion’. It will detract from their job of keep­ing the peace in local com­mu­ni­ties and pro­tect­ing con­stituents by cre­at­ing a sense of fear amongst the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty of being round­ed up by the police based on the col­or or their skin, or the accents in speech.

Recent­ly, New Jer­sey Attor­ney Gen­er­al Anne Mil­gram issued a strong­ly word­ed let­ter to Hud­son, Mor­ris, and Mon­mouth Coun­ty offi­cials warn­ing them to not use 287(g) as a mech­a­nism to racial­ly pro­file con­stituents. Addi­tion­al­ly, she made clear that the man­date does not allow for sweeps or ‘on-the-street-encoun­ters’, where law enforce­ment uses round ups as a means to con­duct immi­gra­tion checks, and that any inci­dences of vio­lat­ing NJ laws will be dealt with by the AG’s office.

All that aside, though, what does it real­ly mean to be an immi­grant in New Jer­sey, where 287(g) may ten­ta­tive­ly be put into place?

Imag­ine this. You are an immi­grant moth­er of two. You speak lim­it­ed Eng­lish, and rely on your hus­band to deal with the intri­ca­cies of life out­side of your home. You have been in this coun­try for many years, and your chil­dren are enrolled in the local school sys­tem. Your hus­band spon­sored you to migrate to this coun­try when you first mar­ried. You find your­self in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship, and con­sid­er reach­ing out to the police to inter­vene. How­ev­er, your hus­band tells you that report­ing him to the police will result in your depor­ta­tion, that they’ll take away her chil­dren and she’ll nev­er see them again. So, you weigh out the pros and cons, and some­how jus­ti­fy stay­ing in a vio­lent mar­riage for the sake of your chil­dren, and for the fear of being deport­ed back to your coun­try of ori­gin, where you may face even more vio­lence for leav­ing your hus­band. Some­how, the thought of dai­ly vio­lence isn’t as bad as the thought of approach­ing the police, the threat of depor­ta­tion and sep­a­ra­tion from your chil­dren loom­ing over­head.

Imag­ine this. You are a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion immi­grant. You are Mus­lim, with a very com­mon first and last name. You are dri­ving late at night on your way home, and you are pulled over because you are speed­ing. Along with your license and your reg­is­tra­tion, you are asked for your immi­gra­tion papers – some­thing you don’t car­ry around with you, because you are a legal res­i­dent and you tell them this much. You are asked to come to the sta­tion. You grudg­ing­ly com­ply, think­ing of it as an incon­ve­nience, but that you will be out as soon as they run your name through the sys­tem. Your name, a com­mon one, shows up with some alarm­ing news attached to it. You tell them it’s a mis­take, and that you are in fact not that indi­vid­ual. You are detained for sev­er­al hours, per­haps days, as they sort out the sit­u­a­tion and real­ize that you are in fact not who they think you are. In the mean­time, you are not allowed to make a call to fam­i­ly mem­bers or a lawyer, and no one knows of your where­abouts. You are told that this is nor­mal pro­ce­dure – a crim­i­nal until proven inno­cent. You are let out even­tu­al­ly, but with a bit­ter taste in your mouth in regards to local law enforce­ment. You know you will think twice about approach­ing them should a prob­lem arise in the future, if only to avoid the painful and humil­i­at­ing process they have just sub­ject you to.

Imag­ine hun­dreds of oth­er sce­nar­ios that immi­grant con­stituents will face should 287(g) go into affect. Imag­ine being racial­ly pro­filed and being treat­ed like a crim­i­nal. Imag­ine being fear­ful of the police when you need them most, when you are placed in a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion, but the fear (be it real or imag­ined) of being deport­ed holds you back from call­ing for help.

Is this the sort of com­mu­ni­ty you want to be a part of?