Seven months after New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram ordered local police to question people they arrest for certain crimes about their immigration status and to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities, the rate of referrals has nearly doubled, reports the New York Times. Immigrants and their advocates say some people have been unfairly swept up in the dragnet because of overzealous enforcement or confusion over how the directive was supposed to be implemented, creating a chilling effect on some immigrants' relationships with the police. “This is imposing an incredible human cost on these immigrants,” said Maria Juega of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “They fear contact with authority. Any remote or direct link with the government is now a risk for an immigrant.”
The directive dates from last August amid outrage after a triple murder in which one suspect was an illegal immigrant who had been released on bail after previous arrests. It urged officers to inquire about citizenship and nationality when booking people for felonies or drunken driving. From September through February, New Jersey law enforcement agencies referred 8,874 cases to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, up from 4,589 for the same period a year earlier. Milgram said the directive had helped keep serious criminals in prison, as federal immigration authorities detained those who had “murdered people, who stabbed people, who were arrested for D.W.I. or who molested kids,” but who might otherwise have been released on bail, on parole or at the end of their sentences. Avocates for immigrants said the directive caused other damage; they cited cases in which people had been questioned about their status during routine traffic stops – especially in rural areas – or witness interviews.