TOMS RIVER — The Ocean County Board of Freeholders is considering suing the Murphy administration in federal court over immigration law enforcement policies that critics say turned New Jersey into a "sanctuary state."

The elected board directed its county counsel to research a lawsuit challenging the immigration directive issued by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal that limits voluntary assistance between New Jersey law enforcement officers and federal immigration authorities.

A number of counties have pushed back against the Immigrant Trust Directive, which took effect in March. Cape May and Monmouth counties renewed contracts with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help screen and identify inmates who violate civil immigration laws, and Sussex County is seeking a nonbinding voter referendum on the issue.

Ocean County Assistant Administrator Michael Fiure said the freeholder board at its Wednesday night caucus meeting agreed to authorize County Counsel John Sahradnik to explore potential causes of action and claims for a federal lawsuit. A separate resolution would have to be passed later to authorize a suit to be filed.

“There’s a question of whether the attorney general can issue a directive that conflicts with federal law,” Fiure said. “We have our law enforcement officers, in this case our corrections department, which is cooperating with federal law in regards to ICE and has a directive from a state authority saying that you cannot now comply with that federal law. So that’s the question that we’re trying to have answered.”

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has said the directive doesn’t direct law enforcement officers not to comply with the requirements of federal law but rather puts limits on voluntary assistance.

On Thursday on Twitter, Grewal pointed to the Immigrant Trust Directive in criticizing the Trump administration over news stories that say a major sweep of arrests and detentions of immigrants facing deportation orders could begin in 10 cities this Sunday.

“We do it differently in Jersey: we know that the best way to protect our residents is by earning their trust, not throwing it away. That’s why we’ve drawn a clear line between local police and federal civil immigration agents,” Grewal said.

Regarding county jails, the directive says corrections officers cannot allow ICE to interview individuals detained on criminal charges unless detainees are advised of their right to a lawyer and sign a written consent form.

It also says jails cannot continue to hold detained individuals arrested for a minor criminal offense, without certain prior convictions, beyond the length of time they would otherwise be released from custody, only because ICE has submitted an “immigration detainer” request, as opposed to a warrant.

“There have been some minor changes,” Fiure said. “However, we are still fully cooperating with ICE in Ocean County.”

Fiure said that when a person is arrested and booked into the Ocean County Jail, the intake process includes questions about a person’s residence and country of origin.

“We do not make any determination as to whether or not someone is legally in this country,” he said. “Once the information is provided, we would contact the ICE officer, who is located in the Cherry Hill vicinity, and they would make a determination whether or not they want to look further into that individual, as far as whether there’s any other crimes they would be charged with and whether ICE wants to move forward with any other types of hearings at that point.”

“In the past, the ICE officer was permitted to come into the jail and to receive information on the people who were booked into the Ocean County Jail because of crimes they committed here in Ocean County,” Fiure said. “What we do now is instead of having that officer stationed here in the Ocean County Jail, that ICE officer is located out in Cherry Hill.

“When we have someone who comes in who fits the criteria of someone who may be investigated by ICE, we have to call him. He has to drive out to Ocean County to again conduct that interview,” he said. “That’s a determination they make. That’s not a determination we make here in Ocean County.”

Fiure said Freeholder John Kelly, the director of law and public safety, wants to ensure the county complies with ICE requests to visit inmates but not risk having jail administrators or corrections officers violate a state directive.

“He wants to fully comply with the ICE requirements, and that’s why we discussed moving forward with this lawsuit because we need a definitive answer which controls: the federal immigration laws or the state attorney general’s directive,” Fiure said.

The all-Republican delegation from the 10th Legislative District applauded the planned lawsuit.

“We are a nation of laws, and the Governor cannot pick and choose which laws to follow or not follow based on emotions rather than facts,” said Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, R-Ocean. “If you are an illegal immigrant and you commit an additional crime on New Jersey soil, our jails shouldn’t have their hands tied and be forced to look the other way.”


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