Federal immigration order unlikely to change enforcement at the Shore

The Trump administration’s new guidelines on immigration enforcement broaden the range of undocumented immigrants targeted for removal. Even those convicted of minor criminal offenses, even forging a work document, face deportation. Previously, undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes were the priority for removal.

Local officials predicted little change by Shore-area police departments after the Trump administration Tuesday issued tough new guidelines on immigration enforcement, bolstered by the hiring of 10,000 new Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Even with such assurances, the undocumented and their families face far-reaching consequences under the new federal guidance, which broadens the range of people subject to removal.

The new directive expands an initiative allowing for expedited removals, calling upon Border Patrol and ICE agents to identify and immediately remove undocumented persons anywhere in the country who have been in the U.S. for up to two years.

Under President Barack Obama, expedited removals were largely restricted by geography and time. The person targeted for deportation had to have been taken into custody within 100 miles of the border and within 14 days of their arrival in the U.S.

And where previous administrations prioritized the removal of immigrants convicted of serious crimes, the Trump guidelines call for deporting anyone convicted of an offense, including minor crimes.

“We are going to start seeing workplace enforcement,” predicted immigration attorney Andres Mejer, who has offices in Lakewood and Long Branch. “Trump is saying, ‘I want to deport everybody, but some I want to deport a little bit more.’”

Despite the sweeping directives from the Department of Homeland Security, local law enforcement agencies said the orders won’t change their day-to-day operations.

The prosecutors’ offices in both Monmouth and Ocean counties said they are not involved in federal immigration enforcement and don’t plan to be.

“We don’t proactively pursue immigrants of illegal status and have not received any (attorney general) or federal orders to do so,” said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. “Nothing changes” for the prosecutor’s office based on Tuesday’s orders.

Charles Webster, spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, said, “Our office is not an immigration enforcement agency.”

Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy said, “Right now, I don’t see any drastic changes in how we operate” based on the orders, but added that could change if federal immigration officials step up activities in the area. The Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office didn’t return calls for comment.

The Trump rules contemplate forging new ties with local law enforcement agencies across the country under a program called 287(g). It effectively authorizes cooperating police agencies to serve as de facto immigration agents. But Washington cannot demand such cooperation. The administration also called for hiring 10,000 enforcement agents.

The guidelines do not disturb the provisions under the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides work permits and deportation protection to the undocumented who were brought to the U.S. as children, provided they obey the law and meet other requirements.

That did not ease concerns for a local “Dreamer,” as participants under the Obama administration policy are commonly referred to.

“It’s the fear of not knowing if you’re going to have one more day here,” said America Motuz, 25, of Ocean Township, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a child. She said trepidation has mounted among her peers.

“More than anything it’s frustrating not to be able to do anything,” she said. “It’s very depressing.”

But others applauded the directives as long overdue.

“It’s Christmas in February,” said Dan Stein, president of Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration. “What (Homeland Security Secretary John) Kelly has done is lay out a broad road map of regaining control of a process that’s spun out of control.”

The federal memo makes the mandate of ICE workers plain:

“Department personnel have full authority to arrest or apprehend an alien whom an immigration officers has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws. They also have full authority to initiate removal proceedings against any alien who is subject to removal under any provision of the (Immigration and Nationality Act).”

Undocumented immigrants will be detained until their cases are resolved, curtailing a practice sometimes referred to as “catch and release.”  While those convicted of crimes will be given priority for removal, the order states that immigration officials should deport anyone they encounter who is in the country illegally.

The order sparked outrage from some officials.

“On the campaign trail and in his first month in office, President Trump has made it a priority to target and falsely scapegoat immigrants to justify his disturbing world view,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-New Jersey, said in a statement. “Now, he is pursuing unprecedented police action that will create fear and anxiety throughout our country, rip families apart and pit law enforcement and local governments against the communities they serve.”

The United States is home to some 11 million undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation. New Jersey accounts for about 400,000 of that total, according to advocacy group NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

The action follows Immigration raids in seven states earlier this month in which nearly 700 people were rounded up. The action struck fear in immigrant communities, even though officials maintained that the actions marked no departure from the Obama administration’s enforcement actions.

“How will this affect Ocean and Monmouth counties?”  immigration attorney Mejer asked. “Fear. They’re already petrified to pick up their kids from school, to go to the doctor or to go to church.”

In part responding to Trump’s tough talk on immigration, some municipalities in the region have pledged they will not cooperate with federal enforcement agents, or declared they are “sanctuary cities.”

There is no standard definition for the label. In some jurisdictions, sanctuary policies bar local officials from even inquiring about a person’s immigration status, or from cooperating with immigration authorities, except in circumstances involving a serious crime.

Princeton considers itself a “welcoming city” rather than a sanctuary city, though the distinction is nebulous. Princeton’s Mayor Liz Lempert has said the city wants to welcome immigrants, but will follow all laws. Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is running for governor, is pushing legislation that would declare New Jersey a sanctuary state.

FAIR opposes sanctuary policies. “By accommodating those who violate our immigration laws, sanctuary policies encourage others to follow the same path, and gives prospective immigrants little incentive to pursue legal paths to immigration,” the group says.

Nonetheless, Johanna Calle, program director for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said her organization has seen an increase in NJ cities passing policies aimed at helping immigrant communities. Those include East Orange, Maplewood and Plainfield, plus Jersey City and Princeton, she said.

Red Bank could soon be added to that list.

The borough’s Human Relations Committee, which advises the borough council on unifying the community, will discuss adding more protections for the undocumented community at its Feb. 27 meeting, said David Pascale, chairman of the committee. Several options are on the table, Pascale said, including the controversial sanctuary-city status or designating Red Bank a “welcoming” city, like Princeton has done.

“At this juncture in Red Bank’s history, we might consider how creating a resolution could help all those impacted by it,” Pascale said. “Many concerned residents have reached out to us in support of our more vulnerable populations and we have a commitment to listen and address these concerns. I’d like to see us seek sanctuary status.”

Whatever the committee recommends, the borough council would have to approve any changes. It’s not clear the borough council has the appetite for becoming a sanctuary city.

“I respect the opinion that we ought to be protective of all people,” Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna said. “Local government is not competent to get involved in immigration. We have enough issues.”

Written by Payton Guion and published on February 21, 2017 at Asbury Park Press.

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