Sussex County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly responded yes to a ballot question that asked whether the county should assist federal immigration officials.

The proposal passed 22,081 to 10,982, according to unofficial results posted on the county website. The vote, freeholders said, gives them the green light to back Sheriff Michael Strada if he is challenged in court for not abiding by the Immigrant Trust Directive, which went into effect in March and was issued by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. The directive limits the type of voluntary assistance local, county, and state law enforcement may provide to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

We already knew what the results would be based on conversations we had with residents, and we wanted the state to understand that people feel strongly about this,'' Josh Hertzberg, a Sussex County freeholder, and former border patrol agent said Tuesday night after receiving the results.

Leland Moore, a spokesman for Grewal, said it's not clear what the resolution accomplishes or what cooperation the Freeholder Board has provided to ICE in the past. Moore said in an email:

The county is, of course, free to express its views publicly. But no law enforcement officers — in Sussex County or anywhere else in the state — may ignore a law enforcement directive. To the extent that any law enforcement agencies misunderstand today’s resolution and refuse to comply with the Immigrant Trust Directive, we will take appropriate action.

Grewal said the rules were designed to draw a clear distinction between state, county, and local law enforcement, who are responsible for enforcing state laws; and federal immigration authorities, who enforce federal civil immigration rules. Strada, a Republican who won reelection on Tuesday, has said he will work with ICE when he deems it necessary. In a video and in postings on his reelection campaign's Facebook page, Strada urged residents to vote yes on the ballot question.

When announcing the directive last November, Grewal said it was aimed at building trust between the state's diverse immigrant community and law enforcement.

Sussex County officials are not the only ones who have publicly opposed the directive. Cape May and Ocean counties have filed lawsuits, and Monmouth County officials said they plan to do the same.

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Updated: Thu, Nov 21st 2019 @ 9:55am EST