HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP: Township police don’t factor immigration status in arrests, police chief says

Despite concerns raised nationally that law enforcement agencies are cracking down on undocumented immigrants for arrest and deportation, those are not the marching orders at the Hopewell Township Police Department.

That was the message delivered to Township Committee by Police Chief Lance Maloney Monday night. He was accompanied by police Lts. William Springer and Christoper Kascik.

Seeking to allay those concerns, Chief Maloney said the Police Department only asks about a person’s immigration status if that person has committed a serious crime such as murder, rape, burglary, stalking, kidnapping, driving while intoxicated, or some drug crimes.

Victims and witnesses to a crime or incident will not be asked about their immigration status, nor will anyone who has asked the police for help, Chief Maloney emphasized. Their immigration status does not matter.

Chief Maloney cited an incident that occurred earlier this year, in which a man tried to get his ex-girlfriend into the car with him. She did not speak English, but her daughter spoke English and called the police for help.

The man was arrested and charged with stalking, which is a serious crime and one that required police to ask him about his immigration status, Chief Maloney said.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency was notified because of his immigration status, the police chief said, but neither the woman or her daughter were asked about their status.

“While Hopewell Township police officers will continue to enforce laws against anyone who commits a crime or act on arrest warrants that we are required by law to execute, we will continue to assist people regardless of their immigration status,” he said.

Hopewell Township police officers will not detain or arrest anyone only on the suspicion of residing illegally in the United States, Chief Maloney said.

The Hopewell Township Police Department follows a directive from the state Attorney General’s Office, issued in 2007, which states that police officers should inquire about a person’s immigration status under certain circumstances, such as driving while intoxicated or for having committed a serious crime, the police chief said.

In those instances, immigration status “is relevant to the (arrestee’s) ties to the community and the likelihood that he or she will appear at future court proceedings to answer State law charges, and the interest of the federal government in considering immigration enforcement proceedings against an individual whom the State has arrested for commission of a serious criminal offense,” the directive states.

When there is reason to believe that the person may be an undocumented immigrant, “the arresting agency is responsible for alerting federal immigration officials, the prosecuting agency and the judiciary,” the directive states.

“As far as our Police Department is concerned, nothing has changed in our operating procedures over the past few months,” Chief Maloney said.

“If a person commits an offense, crime or a traffic violation that is subject to arrest, they will be arrested,” he told Township Committee.

And if the violation warrants it and a police officer has reason to believe that the person is not in the United States legally, Chief Maloney said, the officer will ask about the person’s immigration status and notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel if necessary.

The police chief added that the Police Department’s standard operating procedures forbid a police officer from considering a person’s race or ethnicity as a factor in deciding whether that person may be an undocumented immigrant.

Meanwhile, several residents praised the Hopewell Township Police Department and also asked Township Committee to adopt a resolution stating that the township is a “welcoming community” for immigrants.

Jamie Evanini said she had heard that there were a few undocumented immigrants living in the community. These are the people who work in childcare and housekeeping, and the construction and landscaping businesses,she said.

Evanini said she wants all of those workers to feel comfortable in Hopewell Township. If they see someone breaking into a house, they should not hesitate to call the police “so we can put the bad guys behind bars,” she said.

Sarah Ohls said her great-grandparents moved to the United States to seek a better life, just as the current immigrants are doing. The difference is that her great-grandparents emigrated to the United States before 1924, when quotas were established, she said.

But the same options are not available to immigrants today because of legal challenges, Ohls said. Nevertheless, for moral reasons, there should be empathy for them because they are moving to the United States for the same reasons – a better life, she said.