As Mexican military police halted the advance of 2,000 U.S.-bound foreign citizens over the weekend, New Jersey Sheriff Robert Nolan is battling his own state to continue applying federal law to those present illegally in the United States.
Nolan and Cape May County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders filed suit in federal court Tuesday to challenge state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s directive barring Nolan and his officers from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Nolan told me Friday that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy intends to make New Jersey a sanctuary state, and the directive Grewel issued last November, called the Immigrant Trust Directive, is a means to achieve that end.
Grewel’s Directive Is About Politics, Not Safety
“There’s no common sense to it,” said Nolan, who also cites New Jersey’s bail reform of 2017 as part of the problem. It moved away from cash bail for many defendants. “[Grewel] is telling me that I cannot work with federal ICE agents, even though it’s minimal. … For us, it’s a couple extra minutes.”
That “couple extra minutes” minimizes community disruption and avoids unnecessary time and expense. It enables ICE officers to pick up detainees already jailed for other crimes directly from the jail instead of having to track them down. Nolan said he wants to avoid a repeat of a situation in neighboring Cumberland County in August in which a suspected child rapist was released before ICE could arrive.
“There’s evil forces among us trying to just have their way for political gain,” Nolan said, describing the entire situation as “absurd madness.” “I never thought I’d see the day that I can’t work with a fellow law enforcement officer,” he said.
“[Cape May County police] don’t go out into the community. We don’t go knocking on doors in the middle of the night and ripping people apart from their families. We don’t go out into the vineyards and pull people out of the fields or go up on the boardwalk and grab people off the amusement rides,” Nolan said. He and his officers just want to continue checking arrested people’s names against ICE’s database to ensure U.S. laws are enforced as written.
Nolan Is Complying with Grewel — For Now
To comply with Grewel’s directive on the advice of his attorneys, however, Nolan temporarily suspended Cape May County’s cooperation with ICE on Oct. 4. Under the 287(g) agreement, three of Nolan’s specially trained, ICE-deputized officers were able to access ICE’s database to help determine if a person already held in their jail was also wanted by ICE. If so, that prisoner could be detained briefly until ICE could pick them up. The federal government provided the computer system, and only the three ICE-deputized officers were permitted to access it.
Were he to defy Grewel’s recently modified mandate, Nolan could be removed from operating the jail, although only the governor could remove him from office. Because of the directive, Nolan’s officers must manually sift through data instead of using the ICE database. This creates problems when ICE’s offices are closed and time is of the essence.
For state-to-state extraditions, prisoners can be held for 7 days. Under Grewal’s directive, local police can only detain a prisoner wanted by ICE until midnight on the day they’re processed, Nolan explained.
“It is past time to put aside all the political rhetoric and listen to the facts — and the fact is, people are being hurt and victimized every day because of jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with ICE,” said acting ICE Director Matthew Albence in a written statement.
“It is my sincere desire to work with local partners to whatever extent they are willing to work with this agency in what should be our shared goal to ensure public safety,” Albence’s statement continued. “Uncooperative jurisdictions should be on notice that as long as criminal offenders are being released, they should get used to seeing a lot more ICE at-large enforcement activity in their communities.”
Nolan’s County Supports Him Working with ICE
Nolan said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for his efforts to continue cooperating with ICE. Supporters came from both sides of the political aisle and even included an individual he had once arrested. Although he doesn’t run for sheriff again until next year, a rally in front of the Cape May Courthouse on Oct. 4 was flooded with citizens expressing their support.
Nolan emphasized that ICE is aware of illegal immigrants held in the jail even without participation in the 287(g) program since they are fingerprinted using the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
“In the last 3 years [in Cape May County], there have been 20 contacts with ICE,” said Nolan, who had records through about the first half of 2019. Of those 20 contacts, four were ultimately deported. The other 16 received summonses to appear back in immigration court.
To illustrate his support for immigrants so long as they are legally present, Nolan noted the importance of immigrants in the labor force in his county, particularly during tourism season, when the number of people in Cape May County temporarily swells from 94,000 to more than 1 million. A law enforcement official for more than 35 years, Nolan said the oaths he swore to uphold of both the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New Jersey are important to him. He said those oaths include allegiance to all laws within them. Grewal, he said, took a similar oath.
Grewal contends, however, that immigrants will be reluctant to report crimes unless officers are barred from cooperating with ICE. But Nolan disagrees. “We don’t ask victims what their immigration status is. … The people we’re concerned with are individuals who’ve come into our jail,” said Nolan.
“Grewel … surely did nothing but put the citizens of New Jersey at greater risk,” Albence said in a Washington, D.C., press conference earlier this week. Albence described Grewel’s directive as having “undermined” efforts to protect the country.
“As long as God gives me the strength … I will continue to fight for what’s right to keep this county safe. It’s what I’ve committed my entire adult life to,” said Sheriff Nolan, also a volunteer firefighter since 1983. If Nolan’s suit is successful, it will allow him to do just that.