Combating Surveillance and Protecting Privacy: Why New Jersey Needs the Values Act

Federal immigration enforcement collects sensitive data to track, target, and separate families. The Values Act would limit what information can be shared.

Published on May 31, 2023 in Immigrants' Rights

Every parent should be able to trust that their child can interact with public programs and systems — like schools and health care providers — without fear of being detained and separated from their family. This trust, however, has been eroded, and for good reason.

New Reports of Mass Surveillance and Data Collection

New reporting has uncovered that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is using a legal loophole to retrieve sensitive data from once-trusted institutions such as public schools and libraries, youth sports leagues, and doctor’s offices. This mass surveillance can result in family separation and is particularly harmful in states like New Jersey, where nearly half a million children live with at least one non-citizen parent.[1] The Values Act (S512/A1986), which has yet to receive a committee hearing in the Legislature, would help protect these families from the threat of federal surveillance and intervention.

New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation with 41 percent of children in the state living in a household with immigrant parents, according to a recent analysis of Census data by the Immigration Research Initiative.[2] Those most at risk for family separation, however, are the 22 percent of New Jersey children that live with at least one non-citizen parent.[3] These children should be able to attend school — as is their legal right — and see a doctor without having sensitive data collected and stored without the permission or knowledge of their parents or guardians.

ICE uses sensitive data that it collects from a variety of service providers, both public and private, to target, track, and separate families. This data collection has resulted in detentions and deportations, destroying families and communities across the country. Mass surveillance also results in a broader “chilling effect,” where many immigrant and mixed-status families fear accessing public services and programs they are entitled to. This puts already vulnerable families at increased risk of poverty, food insecurity, and limited access to health care.

For example, the fear created by ICE surveillance deters participation in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and a lack of health insurance hinders child development and threatens a family’s financial stability. This chilling effect helps explain why U.S. citizen children with at least one immigrant parent are more likely to be uninsured than children with U.S. born parents.

Keeping Families and Communities Together with the Values Act

New Jersey can and must do more to protect the almost half a million children at risk of surveillance and family separation, which can have long-lasting and devastating effects on their mental health, academic performance, and overall well-being. The Values Act will help safeguard New Jersey families by providing equal access to vital services and privacy protections, regardless of immigration status. This act, which codifies and closes loopholes in the Attorney General’s existing Immigrant Trust Directive, would prohibit state and local entities from cooperating with federal immigration authorities and limit the information that can be shared with them, thereby protecting the rights and privacy of New Jersey children and families.

The Values Act would help ensure that all children and families in New Jersey have access to crucial public services and programs without fear of discrimination or deportation. By protecting the rights of immigrants and their families, the state can improve the health and well-being of all residents and uphold its commitment to justice and equity for all.

End Notes

[1] Children is defined as 17 years old and younger. American Community Survey data, 2021.

[2] Immigration Research Initiative analysis of American Community Survey data, 2021.

[3] Immigration Research Initiative analysis of American Community Survey data, 2021.