Cape May County sues Grewal over directive blocking federal immigration agreements

New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal speaks during a news conference

New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal speaks during a news conference on Nov. 16, 2018. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Cape May County Sheriff Robert Nolan and the County of Cape May are suing the state attorney general’s office over a directive that blocks local police agencies from entering into agreements with federal immigration authorities.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court claims that New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has endangered the public safety of the county by restricting its ability to communicate with federal law enforcement.

“We tried to work with the attorney general’s office to show the state why this program is so important,” Nolan said in a statement. “We have been left with no other option than to take this matter to court.”

Last month, Grewal announced that the state would block local and county law enforcement agencies from entering into so-called 287(g) agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agreements allow some local officers to perform specified immigration law functions.

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Grewal’s announcement built on a more comprehensive directive he issued on immigration last year, which limited local and county law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal authorities in an effort to increase trust between the state and immigrant communities.

“The purpose of the Immigrant Trust Directive was clear: 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,” said Grewal spokesman Lee Moore. “This distinction is vital, because it provides assurance to victims and witnesses that they can report crimes to New Jersey’s law enforcement officers without fear of deportation.”

Moore did not comment specifically on Tuesday’s lawsuit.

The Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office was the only other New Jersey law enforcement agency with a 287(g) agreement when Grewal announced the prohibition last month.

Cape May County’s lawsuit was filed by attorney Michael Testa Jr., the Republican running in the special state Senate election in South Jersey for the seat left vacant when Jeff Van Drew was elected to Congress.

Testa has been a vocal opponent of the immigration policies of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration. His opponent is state Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, a Democrat who is currently in the seat.

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