PRINCETON: Police to adopt immigrants policy

Princeton police will issue an official protocol this month that says the department will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities in turning over anyone wanted solely for deportation out of the count

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
   Princeton police will issue an official protocol this month that says the department will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities in turning over anyone wanted solely for deportation out of the country.
   Princeton Councilwoman Heather H. Howard, also the town’s police commissioner, said Tuesday that police would ignore any federal “civil” detainer request that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement has on someone. That would mean illegals arrested in Princeton for some low-level offense would not have to worry about being handed over to immigration authorities, unless the person had a criminal warrant out for his or her arrest.
   ”Our folks are not going to enforce civil violations,” she said. “If someone’s been stopped for jaywalking, our officers wouldn’t be inquiring about immigration status or looking for reasons to deport someone. That’s a matter for federal authorities”
   Ms. Howard said the “protocol” would be contained in a departmental general order that police Capt. Nicholas K. Sutter has been working on in consultation with outside immigration lawyers Ryan Lilienthal and Amy Gottlieb and the Latin America Legal Defense and Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of illegal aliens among other things. Ms. Howard said the order grew out of the town’s Human Services Commission, which “has been examining ways to improve relations with the immigrant community in Princeton.”
   In August 2007, then-state Attorney General Anne Milgram directed local, state and county law enforcement to check into someone’s immigration status after the person was arrested for a serious offense or drunken driving. Capt. Sutter said Wednesday that Ms. Milgram’s directive remains binding.
   ”We do not make inquiries into anyone’s citizenship, other than those times that are mandated by the attorney general’s directive. And we will not hold anybody in our custody on a immigration civil detainer, which is consistent with state and local law.”
   The order, the product of community input from outside the department, will be issued sometime later this month, Capt. Sutter said. He said an immigration law expert would come in to train officers on the role of local law enforcement in immigration issues.
   For its part, ICE on its website said “detainers are critical for ICE to be able to identify and ultimately remove criminal aliens who are currently in federal, state or local custody. ICE relies on the cooperation of our state and local law enforcement partners in this effort.”
   The move by Princeton is not so much a change in police policy as it is a public declaration, something that Ms. Howard feels will go a long way toward building a positive relationship between the department and the local Latino community. Ms. Howard felt it critical that they feel comfortable either reporting a crime or coming forward as a witness without the fear of being deported.
   Ms. Howard felt a September raid by immigration authorities highlighted that fact. She said ICE officials did not contact local police beforehand, so there was initial confusion about what had happened.
   The town, which seeks to promote being friendly to illegal, subsequently contacted U.S. Rep. Rush Holt’s and Sen. Robert D. Menendez’s offices on the issue to convey to ICE the town’s concerns that police need to be notified before a raid.
   She said in response to that incident, the police and the human services department sent representatives to a recent Spanish-language mass at St. Paul’s Church to explain that police had no part in the raid and to answer questions.
   Maria R. Juega, executive director of LALDEF, said Wednesday that Princeton has made a concerted effort to make all feel welcome, particularly immigrants. She said federal agencies, not local police, are the ones who should be enforcing immigration law.
   ”Police officers are not trained or equipped or authorized to enforce immigration law. The role of local police is to fight crime and preserve public safety,” she said. “Picking up people who may have broken some provision of the immigration law has nothing to do with that role of police.”