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Ocean County Jail Freeing Inmates With Immigration Detainers

The Ocean County Justice Complex, Toms River, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The Ocean County Justice Complex, Toms River, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The Ocean County Jail is one of four county jails in New Jersey that is setting free inmates with detainers from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), a report out over the weekend said.

Ocean County recently joined Union, Burlington and Camden counties in discharging inmates who make bail despite the immigration detainer, an report revealed.

The decision to ignore the detainers comes after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last March that ICE detainers are requests – not orders – and jails can choose whether or not to hold inmates based on them. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a Middlesex County man who was held on an ICE detainer. Though the detainer was eventually voided since the man was Puerto Rican – thus, an American citizen – the court weighed in on the overall issue of detainers.

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Since then, four of New Jersey’s county jails have chosen not to hold inmates based on the detainers. Union County authorities outwardly advertised their decision, saying the policy contributed to “senseless family separations” that do not “promote trust between immigrant communities and police departments.”

In the report, Ocean County authorities made no such statements, but simply referenced the county’s policy.

“It is the policy of this department that individuals shall not be housed in this facility solely on an ICE detainer or warrant,” the county’s policy says, as quoted by “Nor shall they be committed to this facility by a law enforcement agency without an accompanying commitment issued by a judge.”

The ACLU has applauded the decision by the four counties.

“It is an improvement when even one fewer person is unlawfully held in jail,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom, in a statement issued last summer. “Even so, counties that honor any detainer requests not only ignore the constitutional rights of detainees, but they also shortchange community trust and public safety, all while risking enormous financial consequences. Union County’s approach serves all of the county’s residents and serves as a model for the state and nation.”

The counterpoint comes from organizations who oppose illegal immigration. They say the ACLU has been bullying counties against recognizing the detainers with threats of lawsuits. While the court has ruled that detainer requests do not amount to court orders that compel authorities to keep someone in jail, opponents of the policy point to the fact that a law was broken that landed the subject of the detainer in jail in the first place, and they may be illegally in the county pending a deportation hearing.

The report said ICE deported about 4,361 noncitizens from the New Jersey last year, about half of whom were criminals.