N.J. law enforcement puts Immigration on speed dial
Saturday, October 27, 2007
By ELIZABETH LLORENTE llorente@northjersey.com


When they encounter immigrants these days, law enforcers in New Jersey are increasingly apt to dial up immigration officials.

And those immigration officials attribute a sharp increase in such calls over the past year to two factors: their efforts to partner with local and county authorities, and a state directive mandating local authorities to notify federal agents whenever an illegal immigrant is arrested for an indictable offense or drunken driving.

"ICE would reach out to one police department, then one county jail and one prison facility," explained Scott A. Weber, field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark. "As more law enforcement agencies got more used to the system, they would pass it on by word of mouth."

"And after the Attorney General's directive," Weber said, "there was a pretty significant increase."

A fraction -- 20-30 percent -- of inquiries from law enforcement officials result in direct immigration involvement, often leading to deportation, Weber said.

Other times, ICE officials conclude that local police can handle the matter without them, or they determine that the immigrant is, in fact, here legally. In some cases, Weber said, the person in custody has been determined to be a U.S. citizen.

Law enforcement calls to ICE rose to 11,601 from October 2006 to September – up almost 57 percent from the 7,410 received during the same period the prior year.

And while the number of calls from New Jersey law enforcers never rose above a monthly peak of 804 between October 2005 and September 2006, monthly calls since July have remained at more than 1,000, reaching a high of 1,404 last month.

ICE officials say greater communication between them and New Jersey law enforcement authorities have helped them identify criminals who are deportable, as well as immigrants who have ignored deportation orders.

In August, Attorney General Anne Milgram issued the directive, following a nationally publicized triple homicide in Newark in which some of the accused were illegal immigrants.

A main suspect, Jose Carranza, is an illegal who had been out on bail at the time of the slayings after his arrests in the past year in connection with a vicious bar fight and the rape of a child.

A loud public outcry followed Essex County authorities' contention that, as a rule, they notified ICE about illegal immigrants only after a criminal conviction.

The killings intensified the debate about to what extent local authorities should deal with immigration issues, particularly after efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress failed this summer.

Weber said ICE worked with Milgram's office to ensure the directive addressed "public safety" issues connected with illegal immigration, while not going overboard. Milgram's directive warned against gratuitous calls by police to immigration authorities and actions that could suggest racial profiling. On Friday, Milgram said she planned to offer more detailed guidelines and training in connection with the directive.

Still, Charles "Shai" Goldstein, the executive director of the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network, expressed concern that police were becoming more inclined to report immigrants, even if they are legal and not a safety threat.

"The door to racial profiling appears to have been opened," Goldstein said. "I'm concerned that stops are being made for things other than the indictable and drunken-driving offense the Attorney General spoke about."

But Gayle Kesselman, co-chairwoman of the New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control, applauded the increase in calls.

"In every other area there's supposed to be cooperation between local and federal police," Kesselman said. "There should be a partnership between local police and immigration. I hope the trend continues."

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Fast facts

The fiscal year (starting in October) comparisons for inquiries received by immigration officials. Detainers refer to the status of illegals who are about to go through the deportation process.

Inquiries Detainers

2006: 7,410 2006: 202

2007: 11,601 2007: 334

Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement