[Immigrantrightsnynj] Jersey cracking down on immigration violations
Immigrant Rights NYNJ
immigrantrightsnynj at list.afsc.org
Mon Feb 25 22:10:03 EST 2008
Jersey cracking down on immigration violations
Other states watch partnership with feds after Newark killings
Monday, February 25, 2008
BY BRIAN DONOHUE
Luis Barrios Quiroz, an illegal immigrant working as a restaurant cook, was
stopped by police last October driving 62 mph in Hunterdon County where the
speed limit was 40.
When the Lambertville police officer checked Quiroz's valid Mexican driver's
license, he also found fake Social Security and green cards -- tools of the
trade for immigrants who lack legal working papers.
On Oct. 18, Quiroz, 27, pleaded guilty to presenting false documents and was
sentenced in January to probation by a state Superior Court judge.
A year ago, Quiroz likely would have walked out of the courtroom and simply
gone back to his job flipping burgers.
This time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were waiting in
the courtroom to take Quiroz back to Mexico. He was deported in January.
Following a directive issued Aug. 24 by state Attorney General Anne Milgram,
police, prosecutors and federal immigration officials worked together on the
Quiroz case, allowing ICE agents to detain him as soon as the criminal
justice system let him go.
Milgram's order -- considered one of the most sweeping policies in the
nation -- requires state and local officers to notify federal authorities
when they have reason to believe a suspect is in the country illegally.
Six months after the order was issued, interviews with county jail wardens,
prosecutors, local police and federal immigration officials reveal the
policy has transformed a long-dysfunctional chain of communication into a
In the four-month period from October 2007 to January 2008, police in New
Jersey contacted ICE's Law Enforcement Support Center in Vermont -- the main
point of contact for such immigration background checks -- 6,023 times.
That compares with just 3,135 checks in the same period a year earlier.
"It's light years ahead of where it was," said Hunterdon County Assistant
Prosecutor Ben Barlyn. "If you're asking, are more people being deported?
The answer is yes. The order itself forged a tighter relationship between
federal authorities and local police."
The number of people charged with immigration violations also has risen.
In August, Newark ICE officers placed detainers -- a notice to local jailers
not to release the suspect without notifying ICE -- on 56 people referred to
them by local police and law enforcement. The month after Milgram's order,
that number shot up to 259, and has averaged 233 detainers a month since.
The number of people formally charged with immigration violations also has
"We don't have a crystal ball, we can't tell you how many murders have been
stopped or how many serious crimes have been stopped by us grabbing these
people," said Scott Weber, Newark field office director of ICE's Office of
Detention and Removal. "But there are a lot of people who have immigration
holds who would not have had them before."
NEWARK KILLINGS THE SPARK
Milgram issued her guidelines in the wake of the execution-style slayings of
four Newark college students last August, in which the principal suspect,
Jose Carranza, was found to be an illegal immigrant out on bail after being
charged with sexual assault of a minor.
The Newark killings stoked an already contentious national debate over the
status of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants, especially what role,
if any, local police and county jails should play in the enforcement of
federal immigration laws.
Weber says ICE officials in other states are closely tracking New Jersey's
statewide policy. But attorneys general in other states generally don't have
the power to set standards for local police, making it difficult to
While the statistics show more criminal aliens being ensnared in the growing
net, skeptics warn there is no way of knowing how many people are still
falling through the cracks. Until, at least, they commit more crimes.
A 2006 audit by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector
General found the agency would need to hire 1,008 additional officers to
ensure all deportable criminals are removed from the United States.
Hudson County Prosecutor Ed DeFazio said he fears the federal government is
still not giving local ICE offices enough money and manpower to deport all
the criminal aliens arrested by New Jersey police.
Last month, for example, ICE offices in Vermont and Newark received a total
of 1,937 referrals from local law enforcement in New Jersey. But ICE took
formal action -- either by issuing a detainer or formally charging the
suspect with immigration violations -- in only 741 cases.
"We have some degree of optimism, but it's still a situation where many
serious offenders are not having the federal process begun against them,"
Milgram's directive specifically prohibits police from questioning crime
victims or witnesses about their immigration status. But immigrant advocates
say it has nonetheless heightened fear among immigrants that a call to the
police could get them deported and therefore may allow some crimes to go
A case such as that of Quiroz, in which he was picked up for carrying the
type of false documents that can be found in the pocket of almost all
illegal immigrants, also has fueled rumors and fear in immigrant communities
that police are looking for people to deport.
"You have one guy, who while on bail committed three brutal murders," said
Jonathan Kessous, the attorney who represented Quiroz, referring to the
Newark murders. "How do we get from that to some poor schlep short-order
cook who has a fake card so he can work and contribute to society? You're
going to have to arrest half of New Brunswick."
BIG CHANGE IN LAW
The Quiroz case illustrates the difference in how cases are handled now
versus just a few years ago.
Jim Hurlihey, assistant prosecutor in Cape May County, recalls the case of
Juan Gutierrez, a Colombian illegal immigrant arrested in 2006 for drunken
driving and possession of cocaine. ICE was contacted, but prosecutors say
they were told the federal officials had no interest in Gutierrez. He was
sentenced to pre-trial intervention, a program that results in dismissal of
charges, and later obtained legal immigration status, prosecutors say.
"Over the years it's become an inside joke that unless you have a boatload,
they're not interested in coming and getting them," said Hurlihey.
Weber, ICE's head of detention and removal in Newark, disputes that
description, saying his agency is still struggling to overcome the
reputation of its embattled predecessor, the now defunct U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service.
That perception is still fueled by the fact that, even now, in most cases,
immigration agents do not take immediate action when local police report an
illegal immigrant in custody.
But Weber said the process takes time. When a suspect is arrested, Weber
said the information is passed on to investigators in Newark, who often
track the suspect until the criminal case is over. By waiting, Weber added,
ICE may be more successful in getting the suspect deported. Last month, his
office formally charged 364 people referred by local police with immigration
violations, far more than the Vermont office.
Weber says this system works far better now than in the old days when ICE
agents had to visit the jail each week and look at the list of inmates to
determine if someone was illegal.
By the time they got there, the immigrants, like Carranza, the accused
Newark schoolyard murderer, often already were free on bail.
"When we get this early in the process it gives us time," Weber said. "When
law enforcement communicates, good things happen."
Brian Donohue may be reached at (973) 392-1543 or bdonohue at starledger.com.
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