CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Opponents of an application to give three corrections officers in the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office training for immigration enforcement again asked county officials to withdraw their request Tuesday night.
Some in the 80-person crowd who attended the March 14 Board of Freeholders meeting spoke in public comment against the county’s request to enroll in the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program. Others displayed signs in opposition.
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Opponents of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) partnership…
There was no action taken on the matter Tuesday night, and federal immigration authorities are still reviewing the county’s request, according to Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Steven Fenichel, of Ocean City, told freeholders at their March 14 meeting. “Once you let this ICE devil get in the door, it’s going to start kicking it down.”
Fenichel and other opponents of the move gave similar comments at the freeholders’ Feb. 28 meeting in the county Administration Building in Cape May Court House.
County Sheriff Gary Schaffer, who has not attended either meeting, said in a March 1 phone interview that he wants to quell some of the perceptions and rumors that he said has blown the issue out of proportion.
“People are getting upset that we're going out hunting, trying to round people up. We're not doing that,” Schaffer said of the optional program.
If the county’s request is approved, three corrections officers who work in the Cape May County jail would receive training and the power to file detainers, a request that a law enforcement agency notify ICE when it intends to release an inmate, for undocumented immigrants who are arrested on criminal charges and processed with the county jail.
But Schaffer has stressed that under a change on bail policy, which requires any new person arrested on a new warrant to have a hearing within 48 hours, including on weekends, nobody caught on a minor offense would be held in the county jail.
Officials have said the county has worked with ICE for the last decade. Schaffer’s officers already check immigration status when someone ends up in the county jail, and they call ICE when a detained person is found to be undocumented.
Some who spoke on Tuesday tied the county’s application to a potential overhaul in federal immigration policy. In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that advocated deportation of undocumented people charged with any crime. Currently, only undocumented people convicted of serious crimes face possible deportation.
It also called for states and local law enforcement to partner with federal immigrant authorities and to follow federal immigration policy.
“You are dangerously underestimating the significance of this,” said Sandy Gatelein, who heads the newly formed advocacy group Cape May County Indivisible. Gatelein told the freeholders that the county’s bid to take part in the program is part of a Trump agenda she described as “hateful.”
“People in Cape May County and across the country are frightened for their lives,” she said.
Shayla Woolfort, a Rio Grande resident who is also part of the group, said the program manifests racial profiling among participating law enforcement. She also said it could harm the county’s tourism industry.
Jessica Culley, general coordinator for the Farmworker Support Committee, a nonprofit that advocates for farm workers in South Jersey, said her organization opposes any partnership on the county’s part with ICE.
“While I strongly believe individuals accused of serious crimes should be held accountable, I believe it is inappropriate to misuse immigration law to this end,” she said. “The goals should be to make all residents of the community feel safe and trust that law enforcement is there for that purpose, and not to seek them out for deportation.”
This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Shayla Woolfort's name.