Missing Kid: Cases Like This Why We Limit ICE Cooperation, AG Says
An active missing child case out of Cumberland County is shining a spotlight on the New Jersey Attorney General's intent in issuing the his Immigrant Trust Directive.
The directive — sometimes known as the "Sanctuary State" rules because Gov. Phil Murphy used the term during his 2018 campaign, though his administration doesn't use the term — limits local law enforcement cooperation with immigration authorities.
NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the directive always has been aimed at improving public safety, while addressing a degree of mistrust among immigrant populations within the state, "given the national climate of aggressive immigration enforcement."
Since 5-year-old Dulce Alavez went missing Sept. 16 from City Park in Bridgeton, the county prosecutor's office has emphasized the any residents, including immigrants living in the country illegally, should come forward. Authorities working on the missing-child case have said they're not concerned about immigration status.
“Clearly we have more work to do, because there’s still a climate of fear that exists across the state and in Cumberland County, where people are afraid to come out and report information to the extent they might have it, regarding the disappearance of this young girl that happened last week," Grewal said.
He continued: "And that’s precisely what we’re trying to allay, that fear, to say that you can come to the local police department, to the Bridgeton police and report whatever information you have or report by phone — that you’re not going to be deported if you’re helping a state law enforcement officer solve a crime."
The state attorney general also said the message has been clouded by people who are calling it a "'sanctuary state directive,' when that’s the furthest thing from the truth."
"The directive gives no sanctuary to any criminals, we’re very clear about that — you commit a crime in New Jersey, you go to jail," Grewal said.
Among the directive's restrictions: Local authorities can't stop, arrest, question or search someone only based on immigration status. They can't ask for the immigration status of any individual, unless it's relevant to the investigation of a serious crime. They can't participate in civil immigration enforcement by ICE. They can't provide ICE with access to law enforcement resources unless those same resources are generally available to the public. And they can't allow ICE to interview an individual arrested on a criminal charge, unless that person is advised of his or her right to a lawyer.
But it also notes that local authorities can assist federal immigration authorities in emergency circumstances, and allows for joint task forces, provided they're not related to federal civil immigration enforcement. The directive doesn't stop local authorities from asking someone for proof of identity if it's legally justified as part of an investigation.
ICE, for its part, said its activities shouldn't be a hindrance to investigations such as the search for Dulce.
“ICE does not target witnesses," it said in a statement sent to New Jersey 101.5" "ICE encourages undocumented immigrants to cooperate with local, state, and federal authorities without fear of reprisal. ICE’s enforcement actions are targeted and lead driven."
After NJ.com and The NY Post both reported that the boyfriend of Dulce's mother recently was detained by ICE, officials with the agency confirmed that 27-year-old Edgar Martinez-Santiago, a Mexican citizen, was released from ICE custody on Sept. 19.
"He is part of an ongoing investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement partners and ICE cannot comment further," ICE officials said.
Authorities have not said if his detention was in any way related to the search for Dulce or the investigation around it.
There is a total reward of $35,000, from several different sources, for information leading either to law enforcement finding Dulce, information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the child's disappearance, or both.
The FBI has created an online form to submit cell phone photos, video or other potential information that could assist in the investigation.
"We realize that our law enforcement officers have a job to do to work with our federal partners, which they’re free to do on criminal matters," Grewal said. "But when it came to civil immigration deportation proceedings, that’s not our lane. That’s what ICE-ERO (the directive) does — and they should do their jobs and we’ll do ours and at the end, we just want to improve public safety."
Since the directive was unveiled and put into effect in March, there’s been a polarized response.
When Grewal first announced the directive in Nov. 2018, prosecutors and law enforcement leaders from Camden, Essex, Hudson and Mercer counties attended the event in a show of support.
Ocean County recently filed a federal lawsuit against the state, claiming that the directive is unconstitutional.
The state Attorney General said his office's “21/21 Community Policing Project” also has helped try to make NJ residents aware of the directive's intent, by holding 21 community sessions on the issue.