‘Bureaucratic Snafu’ Kept Ocean County on Sanctuary List, Freeholder Says
TOMS RIVER — The fact that Ocean County was recently found on an Immigration Customs Enforcement list of sanctuary counties is more of a typo than a change in policy, according to county freeholders.
Freeholder Jack Kelly said the county government believed they had been removed from the list after first noticing their inclusion in 2014.
"We called them to ask them why and went over our policy with them," he said. "They agreed that we are not a sanctuary county at the time, but asked for us to change some of the language in our policy, which we did."
Even before the 2014 conversations, and especially as it has become a more widespread topic, Kelly said, "We are not now, nor have we ever had a desire to be a sanctuary county. It's just not what we are trying to do."
In a press release from the county, Kelly said Ocean County has since been removed from ICE's declined detainer outcome report list, which the Trump administration has required the agency to publish periodically.
In 2015, the county initiated a 48-hour immigration policy to help streamline cooperation with ICE as part of their Priority Enforcement Program, according to the county. As a result, inmates identified as a "immigration enforcement priority" can be held in custody no more than 48 hours with probable cause that they are "removable aliens."
According to the county, previous policies were less specific, which is why they were originally included among the list of sanctuary counties by ICE.
"Our detainer procedures went through some changes until we got together with ICE and hashed out a policy acceptable to all of us," Kelly said.
Kelly said it is important that the county not be included in the list of sanctuary counties because they have put an emphasis on keeping residents safe.
"We want to protect the people of Ocean County," he said. "If there's somebody that has a charge against them, and ICE wants to look at that, certainly we want them to have the opportunity. What they're in our jail for is not any federal crimes. They're in our jail for something relatively minor."
As part of their effort to work with ICE, Kelly said there is an agent at the Ocean County Jail to review any potentially questionable paperwork.
"Our policies were not a sanctuary policy," Kelly said. "At the time, they said we were coming off the list they post. There was a bureaucratic snafu and it didn't happen. We made no further changes."
Kelly said that while the issue has gotten different reactions in different parts of the state and the country he believes it is important for Ocean County to do this for all its residents.
"It's probably countywide that people do not want us to not enforce federal law," he said. And while their placement on the list was not corrected the first time he said he believes after an apology from ICE that the matter has been resolved going forward.