The Newark Police Department is making waves in New Jersey, becoming the first department in the state to refuse to comply with the federal government’s request to detain suspected illegal immigrants charged with minor crimes. While not mandatory, the government has asked police departments to comply in the hopes of finding illegal immigrants and deporting or otherwise detaining them. Immigration lawyers in New Jersey say that the controversial entreaty has been sparking dissension across the country.
The federal request is part of the Secure Communities program, a 2011 directive of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The program gives the government the authority to ask that police officers detain any suspect in a criminal investigation for a 48-hour period, if the suspect cannot prove his or her legal status as a U.S. citizen or provide a valid green card or visa. This detention measure was included in the program as a way for ICE to track illegal immigrants who have committed violent crimes.
As part of the Secure Communities program, the Department of Homeland Security will have access to fingerprints collected during arrests, which allows ICE to request detention of a specific suspect. But immigration attorneys in New Jersey say that the policy can be easily misused to target immigrants charged with low-level crimes, who can be detained and then deported, according to procedure. Even a wrongful arrest or accusation can land a suspect in trouble with the law, and bring that person to the attention of ICE and Homeland Security.
In several cities across the country—New York City, Chicago, L.A., Connecticut, and others—police departments have adopted this policy in their jurisdictions, while New Orleans and Newark are among the first cities to refuse. As of July 24, city police in Newark will no longer hold suspects in petty crimes such as shoplifting and vandalism, but will continue to share fingerprints and information with federal agencies. This protection will include anyone who has witnessed a crime and wishes to report it without fear of detention. Only suspected illegal immigrants involved in serious or violent crimes will be detained for 48 hours, at the request of the federal government.
Supporters of the Newark PD’s stance say that this policy will foster relationships between the police department and the immigrants in the community, and will help law enforcement keep their focus and resources on seriously dangerous criminals. While anyone who has committed a crime will be prosecuted as usual, only suspects of major crimes will be given more consideration if their immigration status comes into question. Immigration advocates said that this move will encourage more communication between police and people who are in the country illegally, who often do not report crimes for fear of the inquiry into their own lives.
The immigration attorneys at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A. offer legal representation and counsel to anyone who has been detained in connection with criminal activity, and may be deported as a result.