CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Cape May County officials on Wednesday defended extending an agreement to help federal officers deport undocumented immigrants accused of crimes, even as the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office threatened to shut the program down.
“Cape May County does not want to be a sanctuary county,” Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton said in a news release Wednesday. “We fully support Sheriff Robert Nolan the same way we supported the previous Sheriff Gary Schaffer who introduced the program.”
Known as a 287(g) agreement, the program allows local officers to perform the functions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. In Cape May County, three officers with the Sheriff’s Office assigned to the county jail participate in the program.
A spokesman for state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the county must follow state rules or Grewal’s office will issue a directive to stop it from participating as of Aug. 6.
The state requires local governments to provide extensive documentation on why a program is needed, including an analysis of the impact the agreement would have on law enforcement’s relationship with immigrant communities. Grewal’s office has said the county has not done that.
The county’s news release said it “will address its next steps in due time.”
The county does not send officers into the community to round up undocumented residents, the statement said. It only helps deport those accused of crimes who end up in the county jail.
There is one person now on ICE detainer who was charged with aggravated sexual assault on a minor and endangering the welfare of a child, the county said.
“If the county were to sever its ties with the 287(g) program, an individual such as this could end up back on the streets of Cape May County following his or her prison term,” the county said. “The Cape May County sheriff, with the support of the Cape May County Freeholder Board, cannot accept this outcome.”
County spokesman Denis Brown would not release the person’s name who is on detainer, and Nolan was not available for interview.
“Due to the terms on the agreement with ICE, the Sheriff’s Department is not able to identify the individual,” Brown wrote. “At this time, we are not doing any further specific interviews on the matter. Once we have further developments, we will share them with you.”
The county said four people have been deported since the agreement with ICE first took effect in October 2017.
In November, Grewal issued the Immigrant Trust Directive, limiting the voluntary assistance local and county law enforcement can provide to federal immigration authorities.
Grewal has said people are far less likely to report a crime to police if they fear the officer may turn them over to ICE.
On April 30, Grewal outlined the extensive process any law-enforcement agency would need to undertake to enter or renew a 287(g) agreement.
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