Federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement since April have conducted at least three major raids across New Jersey, arresting nearly 190 people suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
Now, a day after New Jersey's attorney general announced new rules restricting local law enforcement officers' interaction with immigration agents, ICE is threatening even more raids.
A spokesman for the Newark office said in a statement Friday to NBC Philadelphia that New Jersey should expect increased arrests because of the new rules.
"The probability is that at large arrests and worksite enforcement operations, which already exist, will likely increase due to the fact that ICE ERO will no longer have the cooperation of the jails related to immigration enforcement," ICE spokesman Emilio Dabul said in an email.
He added that since the agency's "highest priority is public safety and enforcing immigration laws, we must pursue that to the best extent possible, which will likely involve more at large arrests and worksite enforcement operations."
The threat is apparently in response to state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal's "Immigrant Trust Directive" announced Thursday. It limits the type of voluntary assistance that law enforcement agencies provide to immigration authorities, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The new rules are meant to strengthen the trust between local law enforcement and immigrants in the state, Grewal said.
New Jersey has one of the highest undocumented immigrant populations in the nation, with an estimated 500,000 people living without legal citizenship as of 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
The new rules, the attorney general said, will encourage immigrants to come forward when crimes are committed.
"With this directive, we hope to draw immigrants out of the shadows and into our communities. We hope to create an environment where residents feel safe around our officers, whether they're reporting a crime or simply striking up a conversation," he said.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official initially criticized the new directive.
"The New Jersey Attorney General's decision to further limit law enforcement's ability to cooperate with ICE undermines public safety and hinders ICE from performing its federally-mandated mission," ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence said in a statement.
"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," Albence added.
Though Grewal emphasized that the new policies will not make New Jersey a so-called sanctuary state for undocumented individuals who commit crimes, the change does mimic actions by other cities and states that have moved to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents since President Donald Trump took office.
Police departments and corrections officers will not be allowed to hold those arrested for minor offenses past their original release dates, even if ICE submits an immigration detainer request.
Agencies will still be allowed to notify ICE of inmates' pending release if they have committed a serious crime like murder, rape, arson, assault or domestic violence, but officers will only be allowed to keep those inmates in custody until 11:59 p.m. the day of their scheduled release.
Unless granted permission by the state attorney general, however, law enforcement agencies are also prevented from entering into or renewing Section 287(g) agreements with federal authorities, which allow state local agencies to enforce federal civil immigration laws.
Officers also cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain a person simply because they believe that person may be undocumented.
Officers are also barred from asking people about their immigration status unless doing so is necessary while investigating a serious crime.
The directive goes into effect March 15, 2019.