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Sheriff Nolan Chooses Safety Over Politics

Cape May County Sheriff Bob Nolan, seen speaking at a 9/11 commemoration ceremony in Sea Isle City, is at odds with New Jersey's attorney general.


In a case that could have national implications concerning the enforcement of immigration laws, Cape May County Sheriff Bob Nolan said Wednesday he would not follow New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s directive to end his department’s formal agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

At a press conference last Friday, Grewal said he was issuing a directive to New Jersey’s local law enforcement agencies that would bar them from honoring their arrangements, known as 287 (g) agreements.

Nolan and Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden are the only sheriffs statewide whose offices currently have existing formal agreements with ICE.

That did not sit well with Nolan, who said such arrangements are vital for the protection of Cape May County residents and could result in the release of undocumented immigrants accused of violent felonies.

“I’ve never before been asked not to cooperate with another law enforcement agency,” Nolan said by phone on Wednesday, “not one time in the 35 years I have been working in law enforcement.”

The 287 (g) agreements provide for training of local authorities on immigration laws and grant certain enforcement powers.

Grewal maintained that local law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with ICE on such matters would discourage crime victims or witnesses to crimes from talking to police.

Nolan said that he was aware of minor problems the state had with his deal with ICE. As a result, he said, he had been working with the state over the last 10 weeks to draft an acceptable 287 (g) agreement to the state and the county.

He said that as of mid-August, he believed the state’s objections had been assuaged. He was blindsided by Grewal’s press conference, Nolan said.

“When this all began back in July, I’ve worked with the state on cleaning up language and nomenclature they objected to in our 287 (g), and we had a deal that was acceptable to both sides,” he said.

“It shocked me,” he said, “to go from (a top Grewal deputy) being OK with (an amended 287 (g)) to not allowing our program to continue at all. To ordering us to stop our contract made in good faith with a federal law enforcement agency.”

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issues a directive banning Cape May County’s deal with federal immigration enforcement officials. (Photo courtesy of WHYY TV)

Nolan said he and Golden would fight the directive to avoid situations that could endanger the law-abiding community. He used as an example a recent case in which a dangerous suspect accused of raping an underage victim was released from jail in Cumberland County instead of being held for pickup by ICE agents.

“This is a sanctuary directive,” Nolan added. “(The Attorney General) is ordering my office to forego an agreement made to protect the people who elected me. This directive negates the words we changed to satisfy their stated objections but would still maintain the integrity of the original agreement.”

He said Grewal’s order would make the residents of Cape May County less safe by needlessly exposing them to the potential of a violent offender’s release into the community.

Nolan vehemently disagreed with Grewal’s assertion that Cape May County’s deal with ICE contributed to a climate of “overzealous enforcement” of immigration laws.

It made more sense, Nolan said, for the Sheriff’s Department to notify ICE and briefly hold undocumented immigrant suspects accused of violent crimes, instead of releasing them and forcing ICE agents to catch them a second time.

“It’s a waste of resources (to abide by Grewal’s directive),” Nolan said. “We’re talking about people who are already in custody. Under the existing agreement, we notify ICE, which has until 11:59 p.m. that day, to pick the person up. If they arrive at midnight or later, they’ve missed their window, the person is already released. I wouldn’t call that overzealous.”

Nolan said Grewal’s directive was unprecedented, and said his agency and Golden’s would fight it through the courts.

“Now I suppose it is going to be up to the lawyers to make these arguments,” Nolan said, “and this could have national implications about how federal, state and local agencies handle the enforcement of our immigration laws.”

For his part, Grewal denied the directive would prevent local authorities notifying federal agencies of people detained of serious crimes, but acknowledged it expanded on a previous more comprehensive directive called the Immigrant Trust Directive, which he approved last year to limit the state’s cooperation with ICE.

“Our job is to enforce the state’s criminal laws. Their job is to enforce federal immigration laws,” Grewal said of ICE during the press conference. “They should do their jobs and we’ll do ours.”

Nolan said the only response he received from the state to his re-worded deal with ICE was notification he was not required to conduct a public forum about it.

“I took that as good news, because you would expect they would state any other objections at that time,” he said.

Instead, weeks went by without comment from the state, until Grewal’s announcement last Friday.

“I was really shocked by that,” Nolan said.

Cape May County Sheriff Bob Nolan, center, in white shirt, with Ocean City officials in front of City Hall.