Ocean County officials said they were “frustrated and disappointed” by a federal appeals court’s decision that blocks cooperation with immigration officials, but the Board of Commissioners said it will continue the fight in state court.
The county filed a federal lawsuit after former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a 2018 directive barring cooperation between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement agencies, including the Ocean County Jail.
After losing the original lawsuit against Grewal’s Immigration Trust Directive, the county filed an appeal in 2020.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals on July 29 ruled against the county as well, saying that Grewal was within his rights to regulate the policing powers of the state’s enforcement agencies.
The Board of Commissioners had a different opinion, noting that even the three appellate court judges, while defending the legality of Grewal’s actions in their decision, also questioned the “wisdom” of the directive.
“We have believed all along, and we still believe the Attorney General’s action violates the United States Constitution by preventing our county from fully cooperating with the federal government,” said Commissioner John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety.
Kelly announced the court decision at a preboard meeting of the commissioners on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m disappointed and frustrated with this decision. ICE is a lawful agency of the United States of America, but we are being told that legally we cannot work with them or share information with them,” Kelly said. “It makes no sense to me at all.”
Grewal’s directive even bars ICE agents from using county office space or equipment.
“They can’t sit at a desk or even use a telephone,” Kelly said. “We should have the right to cooperate with law enforcement at any level of government.”
Gary Quinn, Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, said that while the county may have lost the federal lawsuit, he was optimistic that a second separate suit now in state Superior Court would be more successful.
The basis of the state lawsuit is that New Jersey statutes specifically allow counties to share information with other agencies and other levels of government.
“We are going to continue this lawsuit and I’m hopeful we will be successful,” Quinn said. “The bottom line is this board’s job is to protect the people of this county, to keep our residents safe.”
Quinn said that before Grewal’s edict, an ICE agent was assigned to the Ocean County Jail to monitor immigration cases.
“Now we can’t even tell ICE when an illegal immigrant is due to be released from jail, even if that inmate has pending charges or a violent criminal record,” Quinn said.