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Judge: NJ immigration directive doesn't violate federal law

Cape May County officials are reviewing their options after a federal judge dismissed their lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s Immigrant Trust Directive.

Issued by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in November 2018, the directive limited counties’ abilities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities when dealing with those arrested on criminal charges. It went into effect in March 2019.

Cape May County freeholders and Sheriff Robert Nolan, along with Ocean County officials, sued Grewal over the directive in October. The two counties are considering an appeal, according to a Cape May County news release issued Thursday.

Ocean County officials could not be reached for comment.

“This ruling actually violates the rights of every sheriff in the state to voluntarily assist fellow law-enforcement officers in keeping their communities safe,” said Nolan. “Federal law specifically granted these rights to be used at the discretion of law enforcement executives to be utilized in the best interest for the communities that they protect. This ruling is shameful!”

“The Cape May County Freeholder Board fully supports Sheriff Nolan,” said county Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton. “As we move forward, the sheriff knows that we will assist in any way possible to protect our residents in Cape May County.”

Cape May County had had a 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which allows local officers to perform the functions of ICE officers — since April 2017, according to the lawsuit.

Cape officials say they have only reported and held for ICE undocumented people accused of serious crimes, amounting to four or five people a year.

On Sept. 27, Nolan received a letter from Grewal’s office directing him to “wind down” his agreement with ICE within seven days, under the requirements of the directive. On that date, the directive was revised to prohibit state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, according to the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson issued her ruling Wednesday, finding the directive’s restrictions did not violate federal law.

The Immigrant Trust Directive bars officers from taking part in federal immigration operations and from questioning or arresting anyone based solely on suspected immigration status or asking a person’s immigration status unless it’s necessary in investigating a serious offense, according to Cape May County.

The U.S. Justice Department had backed the two counties’ sheriffs in their suit. Officials had argued that barring state and local officials from providing information about people illegally in the country conflicts with the federal government’s “statutorily granted powers.”

GOP looks to unseat Van Drew; Dems say don't count on it

Republicans believe they have a good shot at unseating U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, next year, after defeating Democratic state Senate and Assembly incumbents in the 1st Legislative District and almost defeating incumbents in the 2nd District.

Grewal praised Wolfson’s ruling, noting “New Jersey has the authority to draw a clear, bright line between the work of state law enforcement officers and federal civil immigration officers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Growing out of BLM, Whitesboro event works to build community connections

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Smells of charcoal and chicken blend on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in Whitesboro as Shakina Akers and Jose Gonzalez tend a stacked grill.

Nearby are rows of corn on the cob, while there are also hot dogs and hamburgers cooking. It looks like they’re preparing to feed an army. On the far side of the gazebo at the Martin Luther King Community Center, children swarm an inflatable water slide, while more pile into a bounce house, working up an appetite for all that food.

What began as a gathering of friends for Father’s Day has grown into a community event, said Anthony G. Anderson. He said a group of community members that has coalesced around the Black Lives Matter movement has begun regularly holding what it’s calling the BoroBQ. The food is free.

“We’ll pass around a hat at the end of the day, but we’ll cover whatever is needed. We aren’t asking for anything. This is something for the community,” Anderson said.

Building and strengthening the sense of community in Whitesboro is central to the now-weekly gathering, said Mark Harmon Jr., another organizer.

Middle Township police plan summer events for youth

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Citing the hard decisions made this summer in canceling large events for local children due to COVID-19, the township Police Department has announced it will offer some small gatherings to fill the void.

Both men said they wanted to pass on the sense of roots and connection they once felt in Whitesboro to the younger generation. Doing so with fun and food seemed like a natural choice, they said.

The Whitesboro section of Middle Township is a historically Black community, founded in the early 20th century as a planned community for Black self-help and advancement, and named for George White, one of the last Black Republicans elected to the House of Representatives in the Reconstruction era. He represented North Carolina’s 2nd District before the rise of Jim Crow laws.

Booker T. Washington was one of Whitesboro’s early investors.

According to Harmon, the weekly gathering aims to keep the sense of history and community that has always been important to Whitesboro.

People know the community as the hometown of Stedman Graham, which has led to some visits from Graham’s partner, Oprah Winfrey, but it’s the everyday connections that keep the community special, Harmon said.

“This is a place where we can be safe and be ourselves and be Black,” Shayna Lynn said Sunday. In many places, a large gathering of Black families would draw concern or even a call to the police, she said, even if they were just listening to music and playing with their children.

“I can bring my children here and feel like they’re safe,” she said.

The event is not only for Black people, Harmon and Anderson said. Everyone is welcome. But it is a Black space. It may seem like a subtle distinction. According to Harmon, it’s a place where Black community members have no pressure to accommodate white expectations or worry about other people’s reactions.

Anderson said he is working with township police to bring some officers to meet the children, to build communication and respect and to let the children know they do not have to be afraid of police.

The event was apolitical. On Sunday, there were no speakers, although Whitesboro resident Crystal Hutchinson, who has led several Black Lives Matter marches in the county, had a table set up to register voters. And the renewed national drive for racial equality and justice sparked by the death of George Floyd forms the backdrop of the barbecue.

On Sunday, Lynn noted that people arrested July 4 as part of a protest on the Atlantic City Expressway, whom she called the Atlantic City Seven, attended an earlier barbecue, and many of the participants in a protest march on the Wildwood Boardwalk on July 19 also came to the barbecue afterward.

She also spoke about other community members involved with the barbecue or helping out, saying entrepreneurs, building contractors and community leaders were all part of the event.

“We start cooking around noon,” said Anderson. It’s usually a few hours after that when people start to gather.

This week, with temperatures hovering in the mid-90s, many people waited until things cooled before coming out. Some kids played basketball on the nearby courts, and many people just sat in the shade talking with their neighbors.

July 26 is the birthday of the late Waymon Hawkins, known in the community as “Tizz.” A commercial fisherman and member of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, he died in an automobile accident in 2016. He was 29.

Whitesboro post office to open Saturday

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Whitesboro’s new post office will open to the public Saturday, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony coming at a later date, according to a news release.

In his honor, many at the Sunday barbecue wore T-shirts that said RIP Tizz or referred to Sunday as Tizz Day.

“He was the kind of person to post ‘good morning’ each day and offer an ear for anyone that wasn’t feeling great that day,” Anderson said. “He always wanted people to know that they could come to him, and he would listen and help you through it. You don’t come across that kind of young man often. So we celebrate him each year on his birthday.”

State cites house parties in COVID-19 uptick

The state, particularly South Jersey, has seen a slight uptick in new COVID-19 cases as it heads into August, despite cases having been in decline since the start of summer.

At Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli reported that the state positivity rate — the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of all those who have been tested — was 2.42. But South Jersey’s positivity rate was nearly double that.

On Thursday, 6ABC reported that four New Jersey counties, including Atlantic County, have been identified as emerging hot spots, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security. Atlantic County had not been on the hot spot list since May 3.

Efforts to attain a copy of the report from DHS were unsuccessful Thursday.

Murphy said the increase in cases has been traced to indoor house parties across the state.

COVID-19 UPDATES: Atlantic County reports 26 new cases, 5 deaths

Atlantic County health officials reported 26 additional COVID-19 cases and 5 more deaths on Wednesday. The deaths included two Galloway men, a 67 and 70-year-old, a 64-year old Atlantic City man, a 91-year-old Egg Harbor Township man and a 94-year-old Pleasantville woman.

Just recently, a house party on Long Beach Island sidelined about three dozen lifeguards who tested positive for the coronavirus, 50 new cases were linked to a cluster of house parties in Middletown, Monmouth County, and a graduation party at the end of June in Cape May County led to 46 positive cases among New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents.

Last weekend, a 700-person house party at an Airbnb in Jackson Township, Ocean County, took police about five hours to break up. Murphy said it is too early to tell how many positive cases will be linked to that party, but Persichilli believed there will be many.

Since the party, Airbnb has deactivated the house listing pending further investigation and issued a public statement saying, “We strongly condemn the reported behavior, which represents both a clear violation of Airbnb’s community policies and a particularly serious abuse during this public health crisis.”

Since the virus outbreak in March, Airbnb has taken steps to address virus concerns, such as strengthening policies to prohibit gatherings that go against public health mandates, said Liz DeBold Fusco, spokeswoman for Airbnb. The company has also temporarily disabled the “event-friendly” search filter on its site — which is used for guests to seek out venues for parties — and temporarily removed the “parties and events allowed” rule from the house rules of any New Jersey listings that permit parties.

Airbnb took measures a step further Friday and suspended or removed 35 listings in New Jersey that received complaints or violated the site's policies on parties and events.

Among those are properties in Atlantic City, Brigantine, Ventnor and Stafford Township, according to a company statement.

“We stand with Governor Murphy, and we support his call to action to stop parties and promote behavior that respects the public’s health,” said Chris Lehane, SVP of global policy & communications for Airbnb. “We ban party houses and will not tolerate irresponsible behavior on our platform. We know that there is still more work to be done, we ask that neighbors contact us as soon as possible through our Neighborhood Support Hotline, to directly communicate any concerns, which will help us continue to effectively enforce our party house ban.”

Airbnb also implemented restrictions on some U.S. guests under the age of 25 from booking entire home listings in their local area. 

Because of house parties, positive cases in younger people also continue to increase, Persichilli said. For the first three weeks in July, the percentage of positive cases in people between the ages of 18 and 29 ranged from 24% to 33%, she said. In April, the percentage of cases in that same age group was 12%. In June it was 22%.

“We cannot continue to have crowded house parties,” Murphy said at his Wednesday briefing. “They are not safe, period. They are how coronavirus gets passed around more efficiently. I’m not going to say indoor dining is like a house party, because it isn’t. But when one party in an air conditioned house leads to dozens of new cases, it should give us all pause.”

With the slight uptick in cases — about 2,000 new cases were reported in a span of four days early this week — the governor said the state is where it was a month ago.

In late June and early July, the state was reporting anywhere between 317 to 539 cases per day, except for a dip June 29, when Murphy reported 156 COVID-19 cases.

Through mid-July, cases decreased to anywhere between 177 to 396 per day. But since July 24, cases have increased to more than 400, with 489 reported Wednesday.

Patricia Diamond, public health officer for Atlantic County, said the county isn’t seeing an increase in cases due to house parties, but rather due to an increase in testing and old lab results catching up.

“A couple (of house parties) have been reported, and the person reporting the gathering is directed to contact the local police,” she said.

Record economic plunge, bleak jobs numbers reveal virus toll

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus pandemic sent the U.S. economy plunging by a record-shattering 32.9% annual rate last quarter and is still inflicting damage across the country, squeezing already struggling businesses and forcing a wave of layoffs that shows no sign of abating.

The economy’s collapse in the April-June quarter, stunning in its speed and depth, came as a resurgence of the viral outbreak has pushed businesses to close for a second time in many areas. The government’s estimate of the second-quarter fall in the gross domestic product has no comparison since records began in 1947. The previous worst quarterly contraction — at 10%, less than a third of what was reported Thursday — occurred in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration.

Soon after the government issued the bleak economic data, President Donald Trump diverted attention by suggesting a “delay” in the Nov. 3 presidential election, based on his unsubstantiated allegations that widespread mail-in voting will result in fraud. The dates of presidential elections are enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change.

So steep was the economic fall last quarter that most analysts expect a sharp rebound for the current July-September period. But with coronavirus cases rising in the majority of states and the Republican Senate proposing to scale back aid to the unemployed, the pain is likely to continue and potentially worsen in the months ahead.

The plunge in GDP “underscores the unprecedented hit to the economy from the pandemic,” said Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “We expect it will take years for that damage to be fully recovered.”

That’s because the virus has taken square aim at the engine of the American economy — consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of activity. That spending collapsed at a 34.6% annual rate last quarter as people holed up in their homes, travel all but froze, and shutdown orders forced many restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other retail establishments to close.

Tentative hopes for a swift recovery have been diminished by a resurgence of viral cases in the South and the West that has forced many businesses to close again or reduce occupancy. Between June 21 and July 19, for example, the proportion of Texas bars that were closed shot from 25% to 73%. Likewise, 75% of California beauty shops were shuttered July 19, up from 40% just a week earlier, according to the data firm Womply.

The second surge does appear to be leveling off, but cases are still rising in close to 30 states, with the outbreak’s center of gravity seemingly now shifting toward the Midwest.

Many states have imposed restrictions on visitors from the states that have reported high levels of cases, hurting hotels, airlines and other industries that depend on travel.

That has led to mammoth job losses. In a sign of how weakened the job market remains, more than 1.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. It was the 19th straight week that more than 1 million people have applied for jobless aid. Before the coronavirus erupted in March in the U.S., the number of Americans seeking unemployment checks had never exceeded 700,000 in any one week, even during the 2008 recession.

An additional 830,000 people applied for unemployment benefits under a new program that extends eligibility for the first time to self-employed and gig workers. All told, the government says roughly 30 million people are receiving some form of jobless aid, though that figure might be inflated by double-counting by some states.

The pain could soon intensify further: A supplemental $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits is expiring, and Congress is squabbling about extending the aid, which will probably be done at some reduced level of payment.

“The risk of temporary job losses becoming permanent is high from repeated closures of businesses,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “That could result in an even slower pace of recovery.”

Last quarter’s economic drop followed a 5% fall in the January-March quarter, during which the economy officially entered a recession, ending an 11-year economic expansion, the longest on record in the United States.

The Trump campaign said in a statement that the GDP report reflected a period “when much of the economy was essentially closed down to save millions of American lives.”

The economic harm from the virus is extending well beyond the United States. On Thursday, Germany reported that its GDP tumbled 10.1% last quarter. It was the biggest such drop since records began in 1970. And Mexico’s GDP sank 17.3% last quarter, also a record. Unlike the U.S. figures, those numbers are not annualized rates.

With little hope of a swift recovery in the U.S., the picture looks dim for many of the jobless. Since she was laid off by a tech industry nonprofit in mid-May, Miranda Meyerson has been trying to find another job and to sign up for unemployment benefits.

“It’s just incredibly frustrating and demoralizing,’’ she said. Potential employers seem to be delaying hiring decisions.

“Nobody gets back to you,’’ said Meyerson, 38. “You feel like there’s only so long you can submit (applications) into a void.’’

Meyerson and her partner had moved from New York to Oakland, California, in March. The move complicated her efforts, so far futile, to collect benefits from a swamped California unemployment benefits system.

Many economists note that the economy can’t fully recover until the pandemic is defeated — a point stressed Wednesday at a news conference by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. He warned that the viral epidemic has been endangering a modest economic recovery and that, as a result, the Fed plans to keep interest rates pinned near zero well into the future.

“A poorly managed health situation and depressed incomes means the economy risks a double-dip recession without urgent fiscal aid,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

Daco said the expiration of the $600 in federal unemployment aid means that many households could suffer a loss of income in the range of 50% to 75%. That could further weaken spending, thereby fueling a downward economic spiral.

“The economy,” Daco said, “is going to be running on very little fuel at a point when the recovery has really stalled.”