AG Racine Leads Coalition of 18 Attorneys General Backing New Jersey’s Limits on Local Participation in Federal Immigration Enforcement

Coalition Argues that States Have Authority to Protect Public Safety by Enacting Policy that Builds Trust and Fosters Cooperation in Immigrant Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine today led a group of 18 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief defending a New Jersey policy that limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Two New Jersey counties that want to continue collaborating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sued the state to try to block a 2018 directive issued by the New Jersey Attorney General. That directive bars local law enforcement officers from sharing certain information with immigration authorities and from participating in most types of federal immigration enforcement. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the multistate coalition argues that New Jersey’s directive should be upheld because states have the responsibility and authority to protect public safety, regulate law enforcement, and decide how to use their limited resources. AG Racine previously led a coalition of 15 attorneys general supporting New Jersey’s directive when it was challenged in court by the Trump administration.

“New Jersey’s directive limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities builds trust between local officials and residents and should be upheld,” said AG Racine. “We are all safer when everyone—including undocumented immigrants—can report crimes and seek help if they are harmed without fear of immigration detention or deportation. Our coalition argues that states have broad authority to protect public safety and regulate local law enforcement, as New Jersey, the District, and numerous others have done.”

In 2018, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2018-6, known as the Immigrant Trust Directive, to disentangle state and local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement. The directive prohibits local law enforcement from asking about an individual’s immigration status unless it is relevant to an ongoing investigation, and from sharing any individual’s non-public information—including home or work address—with federal immigration authorities. It also prevents the transfer of individuals to federal immigration authorities without a judicial warrant unless that person has committed a serious crime.

In 2019, two New Jersey counties that used to share information with ICE sued the state seeking a declaration that the directive is invalid because it fundamentally conflicts with federal immigration law. A federal district court dismissed the case, concluding that the directive was valid because it did not fundamentally conflict with federal immigration law—which makes state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities largely voluntary. The counties appealed this decision to the Third Circuit.

In an amicus brief filed in County of Ocean v. New Jersey, the states collectively argue that New Jersey’s directive should be upheld because:

  • States have broad authority to protect public safety: The coalition argues that states have primary responsibility for protecting public safety within their borders and have broad authority to enact legislation for the public good. This responsibility includes a duty to implement policies that best serve local needs and policy preferences, and a duty to determine how best to use limited local resources. Expert analysis and anecdotal evidence suggest that separating local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement builds community trust while promoting public health and safety. Thus, states like New Jersey are reasonably exercising their power to disentangle the two.
  • The directive does not interfere with federal enforcement of immigration law: The states argue that declining to use state and local resources to actively participate in federal civil immigration enforcement does not create an obstacle to the federal government’s efforts.
  • It is unconstitutional for the federal government to commandeer state resources: The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution enshrines a basic division of power between state and federal governments. This means that the federal government cannot directly order states to use their resources to enforce federal laws.

AG Racine is leading today’s friend-of-the-court brief and is joined by state attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

A copy of the brief is available at:

OAG’s Continued Efforts to Protect Immigrants
This is OAG’s latest effort to advocate for immigrants in the District and nationwide. In 2020, AG Racine led a coalition of 15 attorneys general supporting New Jersey’s directive when it was challenged in court by the Trump administration. AG Racine also led a multistate coalition in 2018 supporting California’s defense of S.B. 54, a law similar to New Jersey’s directive, against an ultimately unsuccessful challenge from the Trump administration.

In 2020, AG Racine led multistate coalitions opposing Trump administration efforts to limit asylum protections and double asylum seekers’ wait to legally work. In 2019, the Attorney General led a multistate amicus brief opposing the illegal termination of Temporary Protected Status for Haitian born residents, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to block DHS’s Public Charge rule from taking effect, and led a multistate amicus brief challenging the Trump administration’s changes to asylum standards in Grace v. Barr. During the Trump administration, AG Racine joined with other Attorneys General to prevent attempts to close the Southern border to asylum seekersstop a cruel family separation policyfight for hard-working “DREAMers” to stay in the United States; and oppose the “Muslim travel ban,” among numerous other efforts.