When a New Jersey teen was arrested on charges of burglary and theft, no one asked federal immigration authorities if the was in the U.S. legally. It wasn’t until last month, when he allegedly murdered his girlfriend’s 3-month-old daughter and stuffed the infant behind a basement dryer, that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) determined that the suspect was an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, reports the Gloucester County (NJ) Times. In New Jersey, police departments are not required to tell federal officials if they arrest someone suspected to be in the country illegally.
It would take a large weapons cache or suspicion that an individual was planning a terrorist attack for officers to contact the feds, said one officer. Local police have their own guidelines for handling illegal immigrants since enforcement falls under federal jurisdiction and the state has no set policy. The New Jersey Attorney General is currently working to close those gaps. Lawyers are researching a plan to advise local police on when they should contact federal authorities. Even if local police had clear direction from the state, federal immigration officials focus on organized crime dismantling gangs, uncovering narcotics operations, and targeting human smugglers. “We don’t have the luxury to wait around for the phone to ring for some police department to call us and say Hey, we’ve got a guy here who’s a landscaper you guys might be interested in,’ ” said an ICE official.