The New York Times reports today that immigration checks of criminal suspects are now a state-wide requirement in New Jersey: Immigration Checks Ordered in New Jersey. NJ attorney general Anne Milgram seems to have made a helpful, reasonable call here: we need a standardized way to deal with illegal immigrants who have been convicted of a crime.
The New Jersey attorney general, Anne Milgram, on Wednesday ordered local law enforcement agencies to inquire about the immigration status of criminal suspects and notify federal authorities whenever they believe someone arrested is in the country illegally.
The directive comes amid growing debate across the state over the role of local officials in immigration questions since the Aug. 4 schoolyard slayings of three friends in Newark. One of the prime suspects in the murders, Jose Lachira Carranza, is an illegal immigrant from Peru who was out on bail despite three prior felony arrests, in part because the authorities never checked his immigration status.
“There’s a need that was brought home to us all recently with the tragic events in Newark for a uniform state policy,” Ms. Milgram, the state’s top law enforcement officer, said at a news conference here, promising random compliance checks to ensure that local officials are following the policy, effective immediately.
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency, praised the new policy Wednesday, saying, “We welcome this newly expanded cooperation throughout the State of New Jersey.”
Ms. Milgram has talked often about helping local law enforcement officials deal with illegal immigrants in a manner that promotes public safety without treading on human rights. That has become more precarious for politicians since the shooting.
On the one hand, Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark has repeatedly said that he opposes the notion of involving city police in immigration matters, and Paula T. Dow, the Essex County prosecutor — whose office was one of several that did not check Mr. Carranza’s immigration status — was even more pointed, saying her policy was to notify immigration officials only upon conviction.
On the other hand, a growing chorus of officials — including the State Senate president, Richard J. Codey, a Democrat, and Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, the Republican minority leader — have recently urged the state to adopt a tougher stance. And on Monday, Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado who is running for president on a conservative immigration platform, accused Newark officials of being complicit in the murders because of their lax approach.
Until now, local law enforcement agencies had broad discretion — and widely divergent practices — on whether to check immigration status or report suspicious candidates to federal authorities. The Hudson County prosecutor’s office, for example, already routinely does so; the West Orange Police Department, which had arrested Mr. Carranza for assault last fall, has no set procedures for contacting the immigration service.
The Star Ledger‘s Tom Moran provides some additional commentary in response to Bill O’Reilly’s accusing Mayor Booker of being “flat-out dishonest, and downright stupid” (wow): Bill O’Reilly’s Newark rant:
Still, Booker led with his chin on this issue. He’s been adamant about his feelings that police should look the other way on illegal immigration. That makes sense on the streets, since cops need everyone to report crime, act as informants, and testify at trial.
But once someone is arrested on a serious crime, why not check on their status? Councilman Ron Rice Jr. had proposed a resolution to require that of Newark police, and today, responding to the Newark murders, Attorney General Anne Milgram ordered all local police in the state to do so.
Booker called Milgram’s order reasonable. But he’s just playing nice. He told Star-Ledger reporter Jeff Mays last week that he didn’t like the idea, saying “We don’t want to have any undue burden. Our job is to arrest them and put them in the criminal justice system.” And his spokeswoman confirmed today that he still feels that way.
In response to the directive from AG Milgram, Booker issued a statement in press release, which found its way to my inbox:
Under this new directive, city law enforcement will inquire about a person’s residency status when charged with a serious crime. This edict is a balance. Local officers cannot inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses to crimes or persons requesting police assistance. That makes certain that the safety of Newark residents comes first and ensures that our most vulnerable residents are protected.
As to whether this would have prevented the schoolyard killings conducted by at least three illegal immigrants, though, this directive might not have helped: Newark police had notified federal officials to check Carranza’s status, but he was already freed on bail by the time federal authorities got back to the NPD.