CUMBERLAND COUNTY, N.J. – New Jersey is locked in a tumultuous battle over how to handle undocumented immigrants who find themselves behind bars. And while a large group of people are fighting to keep them locked up and have them moved into the custody of ICE, key officials are putting up roadblocks to spite them. 

And now New Jersey residents are finding themselves being put at risk.

The story comes to light after a large number of accused criminals that were in the country illegally were released from county jails. While this is the norm for citizens to often be released before their trials, officials seem to be ignoring ICE directives. 

(Flickr)

 

On Monday, Cumberland County officials issued a statement over their concern that local citizens will become “collateral damage” in the legal battle between Trenton’s sanctuary status and federal officials’ duties to remove dangerous criminals from the streets. 

What’s happening? Local law enforcement officers are arresting criminals and they’re releasing them from custody – despite ICE continuing to file detainers to hold them. These actions stem from the “immigrant trust” directive created by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

It’s called Law Enforcement Directive 2018-6, more commonly referred to as the “Immigrant Trust Directive”, and it bars local law enforcement agencies from working with federal immigration officials.

AG Grewal (Twitter)

 

Grewal says that the measure was supposed to build trust between the immigrant communities and law enforcement for reporting and helping with criminal investigations. He says cooperation with ICE can only continue if he decides it serves “a valid law enforcement purpose.”

Recently, ICE officials posted a list of 54 criminals that have been released from jail facilities across the county. The Daily Journal reported that the releases were approved despite the federal detainers issued to keep them locked up.

Let’s take a look at an example. 

A Mexican national identified as Luciano Dominguez-Trejo was arrested in August and charged with raping an underage girl in Vineland, New Jersey. Despite an arrest record within the area that dated back six years and despite his immigration status, officials chose to release him back into the community until his trial went before the local Superior Court. 

Dominguez-Trejo has previously failed to appear in court for an assault charge.

Dominguez-Trejo was released despite an ICE detainer requesting that he stay behind bars. (Vineland Police Department)

 

The Mexican national was set free from the county jail even though ICE claimed that its Mount Laurel office and Pacific Enforcement Response Center had filed official detainer requests to keep him behind bars. He faces charges of sexual assault of a minor, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal restraint, according to court records.

Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joe Derella is upset over the way the situation is being handled. He wants residents to know they won’t be put in the middle of the legal battle between the state and federal officials.

“When it comes to the protection of our residents, there is zero room for mistakes,” said Derella. “As the director, I will first brief the rest of the Board and then recommend asking the Attorney General to come to Cumberland and personally reassure our residents that they will not be collateral damage in the State’s fight against the Federal Government.”

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Others say that the governor needs to step up and do more.

“Our governor knows all too well that there are illegal immigrants currently on the run from ICE who have raped, abused, and assaulted women and children,” Vineland attorney and Senate candidate Michael Testa Jr. said.

After the reports surfaced that the jail officials had released the accused rapist, Cumberland County Jail Warden Richard Smith fired back – saying that it wasn’t the fault of his employees for the prisoner’s release. He says the jail had received the detainer after the prisoner had already been set free. 

“We are tough on our staff when they are in the wrong, but I will fight for my officers when they’ve done their job and in this instance they did just that,” Smith said. “I realize ICE has been busy conducting raids and arresting immigrants, but what I won’t allow is for them not to have done their job and then attempt to place the blame on my department.”

 

Officials within the county say that the jail received only one ‘incomplete’ detainer request and noted that they received it after the prisoner had been released.  
 
Critics say the AG’s new directive has turned New Jersey into a sanctuary state. Complaints started pouring in after it was created, including letters that were sent to U.S. AG William Barr asking for assistance. Citizens even petitioned to put the directive to a vote, claiming that Grewal’s agenda was not what the state wanted.

But Grewal shot it down, claiming absolute power over his directive to police.

“Officials and residents may not instruct their law enforcement officers to ignore a law enforcement directive,” Grewal said following complaints about the measure.

 

Since Grewal’s directive prevented local law enforcement from working with immigration officials, other state representatives have condemned his actions.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that the Attorney General would tell the Cape May Sheriff to not follow the law,” State Senator Robert Andrzejczak stated. “Our law enforcement agents make our community safe, and they have to be allowed to do their job. I want the Cape May sheriff to know we stand with him and oppose any effort by the AG to stop him from enforcing the law.”

Anthony Gallo is a candidate running for the elected position of sheriff in Middlesex county. He says that the AG’s stance on immigration is going directly against federal law. In a Facebook post, the GOP candidate called out AG Gurbir Grewal and asked for him to step down.

The post accused Grewal of “harboring ‘criminal’ illegal aliens” within New Jersey communities, noting that of 21 counties in the state, 19 “have been releasing these ‘Criminals’ into our backyards with our Families.”

Gallo wrote that “NO politician or appointed official has the right to tell a sitting Sheriff who is elected by the People what to do.  Only the people can do that at the ballot box.”

Insider NJ reported that Gallo also called for the removal of Middlesex County Sheriff Mildred S. Scott, “who listens to this Criminal Attorney General and not the People of Middlesex County.” 

 

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