Wall Street Journal (New Jersey)
By Kate King
February 23, 2017
ELIZABETH, N.J.—President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration has stirred fear and anger in New Jersey’s fourth-largest city, sparking civil disobedience and forcing the mayor to issue new directives for cooperating with federal immigration officials.
Elizabeth police on Thursday arrested five demonstrators who sat on the ground and refused to move outside the Elizabeth Contract Detention Center, a 300-bed facility that also has an immigration court. The protesters objected to Mr. Trump’s policies and a recent attempt by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to target an undocumented resident in this city just south of Newark airport.
“We’re sending a message that ICE raids separate families and tear apart the fabric of our communities,” said Sara Cullinane, director of Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant-services group that organized the demonstration. “We need our elected officials to stand up and stop them.”
The Trump administration on Tuesday implemented broad changes to immigration enforcement making it clear that millions of people living illegally in the U.S. are now subject to deportation. That is a change from the Obama administration, which had prioritized deportations of violent criminals.
About half of Elizabeth’s population of 129,000 is foreign born, and Democratic Mayor J. Christian Bollwage established new protocols last week after a federal enforcement action sparked criticism from immigration activists.
In the past, federal and state agencies typically alerted Elizabeth police before they executed warrants, but didn’t ask local officials for help entering residences or businesses, Mr. Bollwage said.
On Feb. 17, however, two immigration agents called local police for assistance after they were denied entry at an Elizabeth address where they were looking for an undocumented woman. The mayor said the agents showed the police officers a warrant. The woman wasn’t apprehended, but immigration activists criticized Elizabeth police for assisting federal authorities.
The incident drove Mr. Bollwage to clarify the city’s policy. Now the police department requires federal agencies seeking assistance from Elizabeth police to show the police chief or commanding officer a warrant ahead of time.
“If a warrant is presented for a crime, we’re going to cooperate,” Mr. Bollwage said.
Alvin Phillips, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, said the woman that agents sought had eight criminal convictions. He declined to say whether they involved violent crimes, adding that he wasn’t aware of open criminal warrants for her arrest. The woman sought by immigration officials declined through Ms. Cullinane of the immigrant services group to comment.
Mr. Phillips said he hasn’t seen a surge in immigration enforcement following Mr. Trump’s executive order. He blamed rumors spread on social media for stoking fears in the immigrant community.
Ms. Cullinane said the fear of deportation has escalated among immigrants. “I have not seen anything like this,” she said. “I think they’re sort of seeing a chill in terms of people being willing to be out in public.”
Thursday’s demonstration in Elizabeth drew about 100 people, who waved signs and chanted in Spanish and English outside the Elizabeth Detention Center. The facility is operated by CoreCivic Inc., a publicly traded company that runs dozens of correctional and detention centers. A spokesman said the company doesn’t take positions on legislation or policy proposals.
Jose Garcia, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 20 years ago, traveled to Elizabeth from his Staten Island home to join the protest. Mr. Garcia said he and his wife are undocumented, while their four children, ranging in age from 2 to 16 years old, are U.S. citizens.
“We’re very afraid of being deported and our kids staying here,” he said through an interpreter.
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