Police: Declaring Township A ‘Sanctuary City’ Offers No More Protections Than Already Exist
It looks as though the answer to the question of whether the township will be declared a “sanctuary city” is no, at least for now.
That’s because the Township Council at its April 11 meeting was told by police officials that doing so would have no real effect.
Police officers in New Jersey are already barred from asking the immigration status of anyone save those arrested for serious crimes, FTPD Deputy Chief Richard Grammar told the council.
He cited a 2007 directive from then-state Attorney General Anne Milgram, which prohibits an officer from asking about immigration status unless a person is arrested “for any indictable crime, or for driving while intoxicated.”
“No state, county or local law enforcement officer shall inquire about or investigate the immigration status of any victim, witness, potential witness, or person requesting or receiving police assistance,” the directive states.
The only exceptions would be if a county prosecutor or director of the state Division of Criminal Justice believes that “good cause” exists to inquire about a person’s immigration status, if a person is arrested on an indictable offense or DWI, “or as may be legally required during the criminal litigation discovery process.”
Sanctuary cities declare themselves safe for undocumented immigrants, and use no municipal funds to enforce immigration laws, nor do they aid in raids conducted by the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Several township residents have over the past few months approached the Township Council about declaring Franklin a sanctuary city.
Mayor Phil Kramer has said that while he and council members supported the idea in theory, he thought it best to take a measured approach.
Grammar and Police Chief Lawrence Roberts stressed to the council that township police must follow the Attorney General’s guidelines.
“If you call 9-1-1 and you’re in danger, or your house is being broken into, or you need directions, or anything, we are not asking you your immigration status,” he said. “We are not allowed to ask you your immigration status, based on the Attorney General’s guidelines.”
“If you were caught shoplifting, you’re not going to be asked your immigration status,” Grammar said. “If you were driving without a license, you’re not going to be asked your immigration status.”
“The bottom line is the Franklin Township Police Department is going to respond when you call for services and you call for help,” he said. “We don’t care what race they are, what religion they are and what their immigration status is.”
Roberts noted that the township can’t control what ICE does, as it is a federal agency.
“If they send their agents down to do enforcement, that’s up to them, they’re going to do their enforcement and they don’t even have to tell us,” he said. “They had to do an enforcement about two months ago, they had to do something, they didn’t say what it was, they just did their own thing and let us know at the end. There was no involvement with us. We can’t tell them no, they can come in here at any time, they are federal agents.”
But that’s a rare incident, Grammar said.
“Other jurisdictions deal with them much more frequently than we do,” he said.
Township Councilwoman Roz Sherman (D-Ward 2) asked the officers if they felt there was any benefit in Franklin being declared a sanctuary city.
“In my personal opinion, I don’t believe so,” Grammar said. “I don’t believe it’s gong to change anything from how we operate, and I don’t think it’s going to protect anyone because we’re not out stopping people and asking them what their immigration status is. That’s just not part of our job function.”
“We don’t have the resources to do immigration enforcement,” Roberts said. “The road comes first. We have a lot of service calls we have to answer. Motor vehicle accidents, 9-1-1 calls; the last thing we’re thinking about is enforcing immigration laws.”
“I think there’s a perception out there that having that sanctuary city classification is buying some people some level of protection, and I think that’s why councilwoman Sherman is asking the question, just to clarify that, and that’s what I was wondering,” said Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large).
“The laws are already there,” Grammar said. “That’s not what we’re doing, that’s not what we’re about.”
“I think it really comes down to what’s the local police department’s philosophy,” Roberts said. “It also comes down to resources, what’s your mission, what’s your goals, and we’ve always followed the community policing policy. If someone calls in with a first aid call, we’re not worried about your immigration status, we’re going to make sure you get help. At the end of the day it’s about preserving life.”
Kramer asked how the council would know if ICE began asking township police to detain undocumented immigrants.
“I think that would make national news, mayor,” Grammar said. “We’re in the business of stopping crime, we’re not in the business of enforcing a civil immigration detainer.”
At the end of the discussion, Kramer commended the council and township officials for not rushing a vote on declaring Franklin a sanctuary city.
“Many council members have been very energetic on this subject, and I commend them on moving very slowly and I commend the advice of our manager who fortunately happened to have been an officer, and the police staff in advising us correctly, so that we didn’t jump into something that we didn’t understand,” he said. “I think if the conditions change, I think this council is very ready to take action. But I’m proud of the slow method that we have used and the gathering of details before acting.”
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