Editor's Note: This story was updated Oct. 18 to clarify that Sheriff Robert Nolan has suspended the county's ICE agreement pending a court ruling, and is in full compliance with the state Attorney General's order.
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Cape May County and Sheriff Robert Nolan filed suit Tuesday against the state and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in federal court, challenging the constitutionality of Grewal’s Immigrant Trust Directive and asking the court to issue an injunction against it.
The directive, which took effect in March, violates the supremacy of the federal government on matters of immigration, the suit alleges, by hampering law enforcement’s ability to work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“The directive prohibits (the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office) from cooperating and sharing information with ICE,” the lawsuit states.
The county had a 287(g) agreement with ICE — which allows local officers to perform the functions of ICE officers — since April 2017, according to the lawsuit, which was renewed in February.
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.
Sharon Lauchaire, spokesperson fro the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, said the office would not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but " as we’ve said before, the Criminal Justice Act of 1970 grants the Attorney General broad authority to establish statewide law enforcement policies, including policies that promote police-community trust and encourage victims and witnesses to cooperate with law enforcement."
She said the Attorney General’s authority "extends to all 36,000 law enforcement officers in New Jersey, whether they work at New Jersey State Police, a local police department, or a county sheriff’s office."
And Lauchaire said the Immigrant Trust Directive doesn’t provide “sanctuary” to individuals who commit crimes in this state, and doesn’t prevent police from reporting violent or serious offenders or complying with valid court orders.
"Our goal is to build trust, not undermine it," Lauchaire said.
The freeholders have unanimously supported Nolan and the ICE agreement.
Nolan has suspended the 287 (g) program "until a disposition is reached by a court of competent jurisdiction," according to a memo dated Oct. 4 from Warden Donald J. Lombardo to all correctional staff.
The suit also alleges the directive “frustrates and impedes the federal government’s regulation and enforcement of immigration laws” and calls it “unconstitutional.”
But Lauchaire said the purpose of the Immigrant Trust Directive was to draw a "bright, clear line between federal immigration authorities, who enforce federal civil immigration law, and state and local law enforcement officers, who don’t."
She said the distinction provides assurance to victims and witnesses that they can report crimes to New Jersey’s law enforcement officers without fear of deportation.
The attorneys representing the county are county counsel Jeff Lindsay and Vineland attorney Michael L. Testa Jr., who is running for state Senate in the 1st Legislative District as a Republican.