The president’s “myths and lies” about criminal justice are undermining public safety, says New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
Speaking at John Jay College, Grewal charged that President Donald Trump’s distortion of crime statistics—particularly on crime allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants—are meant to fit a “nationalist agenda.”
“They are using secret facts, an alternative universe,” Grewal told the 14th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America.
“Actual facts show that the vast majority of illegal drugs come in through ports of entry not between the ports, and terrorists are not using our southern border.”
New Jersey is joining 15 other states in challenging the president declaration of a national emergency on the southern border.
“There is no emergency at our southern border,” Grewal told the packed room of journalists, criminologists, and foundation heads in a luncheon keynote speech Friday.
Grewal said that some of the money that Trump seeks to seize through his declared emergency would be drug interdiction funds, money earmarked for fighting the opioid crisis, or military construction, all needed by the State of New Jersey.
(The Trump Administration has not yet made public any specifics on where the emergency-freed diverted money would be taken from to pay for the wall.)
Statistics show that nationally violent crime has decreased, Grewal said, pointing out the trend is born out in New Jersey.
However, New Jersey was also recently revealed as one of the states losing population the fastest in America. Twice as many people moved out of New Jersey in 2018 as moved in, dropping the state’s population to pre-2013 levels.
Grewal focused mostly on the Trump administration in his remarks, and twice said that because he is appointed, rather than elected, he does not have to answer to an electorate, and is free to pursue a progressive agenda.
Grewal, a former federal prosecutor, was appointed by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy in December 2017.
In joining the lawsuit against the president, Grewal said he is fulfilling his twofold criteria: Is what’s happening unlawful and is it bad for New Jersey?
The attorney general said that Trump rhetoric has harmed public safety by “cultivating a culture of fear.”
This means that people with uncertain immigration status “don’t want to report violent crimes or fraud” for fear of being targeted by ICE, he said.
With the Trump administration contributing to a rising tide of hate and intolerance, “messengers of hate are no longer confined to chat rooms in hidden corners of the Internet.”
Grewal said hate crimes have risen 17 percent across the country in 2017, and anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise.
The planned border wall is a core part of the hate-fueled agenda, he declared.
“They say the only way to protect the United States is to separate families and put kids in cages.”
Grewal said that he has pushed back against Trump’s rhetoric by putting in place last year a new directive that restricts New Jersey law enforcement from participating in federal immigrant operations with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
“We are limiting voluntary assistance that law enforcement can give [ICE],” he said. “We don’t want [police] advancing a nationalist immigration agenda.”
When Grewal made his announcement last November, it came under some criticism from the feds.
“Ultimately, this directive shields certain criminal aliens, creating a state-sanctioned haven for those seeking to evade federal authorities, all at the expense of the safety and security of the very people the NJ Attorney General is charged with protecting,” said Matthew Albence, deputy director of ICE.
The attorney general’s directive discouraging cooperation with ICE was announced weeks before the release of an in-depth report from the New Jersey of Commission of Investigation to Governor Murphy and the state legislature finding that New Jersey was a favored destination of MS-13 gang members originating from El Salvador.
The report said deportations of illegal aliens had in fact helped deter the expansion of MS-13 gang across the U.S. and had made New Jersey safer from gang violence than it was several years earlier.
“The examination found that MS-13 remains a persistent threat in New Jersey, preying primarily on immigrant communities through extortion of businesses, robbery and street-level drug sales,” read the report.
The report added:
The gang’s ceaseless thirst to command respect through fear, its ideology of advancing in rank by means of violence and its rivalry with other groups, chiefly the 18th Street gang, mean that murder is always just a spark away… New Jersey has played no small role in this movement, with prominent leaders from Long Branch and Hudson County directing operations along the East Coast.
One of those leaders, arrested earlier this year and now awaiting trial in Nassau County, N.Y., had been working to build a more robust drug-distribution network and had personally signed off on planned killings in Maryland and New Jersey, prosecutors allege. The other leader, deported and jailed in El Salvador, used a smuggled cell phone to order that a North Bergen restaurant be shot up because the owner had stopped paying for ‘protection.’ That same leader sanctioned the 2015 execution of a suspected rival gang member in West New York.
In December 2018, immigration officials took 105 immigrants and foreign nationals into custody in a five-day sweep targeting 16 New Jersey counties. The people picked up were all wanted by Interpol for crimes in their home countries.
At the time, the government denied the sweep was made as a rebuke to Grewal’s directive to police.
Nancy Bilyeau is Deputy Editor (Digital) of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.