After an unannounced federal immigration sting operation earlier in the year, local law enforcement agencies in New Jersey are starting to voice concerns about the lack of communication between state and county police officers and federal immigration agents. Police have also raised questions about the federal agents’ policies in immigration searches and arrests. Immigration attorneys in New Jersey say that the tension between the federal and local governing agencies may strain the tentative relationship between state officials and the immigrant community.
A team of officers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) arrested Jose Ramirez at a home in Princeton, NJ, on a warrant issued for the man’s failure to appear in court at a 2009 deportation hearing. According to the Princeton police department, plainclothes agents showed Ramirez their badges early in the morning and escorted him away in a gray SUV and a black unmarked car. His roommate later alerted local police about the arrest, concerned that Ramirez had yet to return. After Ramirez’s roommate called the police, officers coordinated a search to find the group that had arrested the immigrant, calling around to law enforcement agencies to find answers, and rule out the possibility of criminal activity.
Although ICE officers usually give local police a prior notice when they are making an arrest in their county or area of jurisdiction, the Princeton police department was not informed about the warrant out for Ramirez, nor about the presence of the federal agents in the area. ICE later claimed that the lack of warning was due to an oversight in the agency, not a deliberate measure. Nick Sutter, the department’s police captain, claimed that such a notice is “consider[ed] a common law enforcement safety practice.”
ICE’s unannounced operation has raised concerns among local activists and law enforcement officials that the immigrant population will continue to be wary of local police, fearing deportation or other negative action. Although Ramirez was arrested by federal agents, the local police are often blamed as well, even if they are unaware of the arrest. Other ICE operations in the area have also contributed to these questions, notably a 2004 raid during which agents arrested eight illegal Hispanic immigrants in a Princeton house. Police were contacted ahead of time, and were on the scene to help the families affected.
A committee from the town council has recently proposed making Princeton a “sanctuary city,” which would continue the existing policy of barring law enforcement’s help in maintaining federal immigration laws. This move would clarify the police officers’ roles in helping immigrants become legal U.S. citizens. Some suggest it will also help foster the budding relationship between police officers and the Hispanic community of Princeton, which has increased from 6 percent in 2000 to 8.5 percent, according to data from the latest Census.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey law firm, immigration attorneys work with the immigrant communities to foster positive relationships with police officers, and offer legal counsel and representation to anyone who has been threatened with deportation.