After years of protests, pressure and advocacy, New Jersey County jails are apparently no longer able to hold immigration detainees.
The Bergen County Council of Commissioners on Wednesday ended its deal with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold inmates at the Hackensack County Jail. In a statement, the council said it was “no longer prudent to maintain separate areas in the facility for detainees and immigration detainees, regardless of population changes.”
The move followed the lead of Essex and Hudson counties, which also ended their controversial deals with ICE.
Under these contracts, detainees are usually held pending court hearings, as they risk being deported. But the agreements have become a growing political responsibility. Earlier this year, Governor Phil Murphy signed a law prohibiting local and private New Jersey jails from signing new contracts to hold federal immigration detainees.
The law (A5207) prohibits local and private prisons or detention centers from “entering into, renewing or extending migrant detention agreements” with the ICE. New Jersey became the fifth US state to limit or prohibit such contracts.
The measure did not affect current ICE contracts, but Bergen officials opened the door to terminating their deal when they decided to renegotiate it.
Activists have long opposed contracts, arguing they violate human rights and often neglect health and hygiene standards. Their opposition grew as the number of detainees began to rise amid more aggressive immigration policies under the administration of former President Donald Trump.
In July, 15 immigrants detained at the Bergen County Jail filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, alleging a dangerous environment plagued by “deplorable” and inhumane conditions at the facility.
Chia-Chia Wang, director of organizing and advocacy for the American Friends Service Committee in Newark, one of the state’s immigrant advocacy organizations, said the ICE had discretion to allow immigrants to fight from home instead of suffering in detention.
“We welcome Bergen’s decision to finally end their detention agreement with ICE, becoming the third county in less than 6 months to end their relationship with ICE and detain members of the immigrant community in the New Jersey, ”Wang said. “It is the result of years of bringing together diverse communities to oppose the inhumane treatment of immigrants in prisons and prisons.”
NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice, another advocacy group, said the announcement demonstrated immigrants’ growing political power and organizational strength.
“Although Bergen may be the last county to end its contract with ICE, this announcement is not the end of our fight,” the group said in a statement. “The ICE has always had the discretion to release people, just as local leaders have always had the choice to refuse to take advantage of the prison industrial complex. “
An ICE spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The contracts had been a lucrative source of money for the counties, with many officials appearing reluctant to cut those revenues.
Essex did not end its ties with ICE until it signed a deal with Union County to house that county inmates in Essex Prison, anticipating around $ 11.3 million in revenue, which the reports say officials, would compensate for the loss of revenue from the deal he had with ICE.
Hudson County is paid $ 120 per day per inmate housed in the jail. But officials announced last month that the county would no longer house ICE inmates, effective November 1.
The ICE population in Hudson had declined, but county officials also faced strong opposition from activists and protests outside the county executive’s home.
In Bergen, the deportation of ICE detainees came under a new contract between the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office and the US Marshals Service, officials said. Under the terms of the new agreement, the county jail will only house federal inmates awaiting trial or federal inmates already sentenced but awaiting designation at a Bureau of Prisons facility.
“The new contract will no longer include a clause allowing immigration and customs services to be grafted onto the marshal’s service contract,” Sheriff Anthony Cureton said in a statement. “After seeing federal enforcement priorities change and the large fluctuations in the number of inmates in jail, it is no longer in the best interest of the county to continue housing ICE inmates.”
As other counties have argued, the sheriff said some had urged to keep the contract to allow inmates to stay close to their families and legal representation.
“However, after consulting with the county executive and the council of commissioners, I think this is the right way to move forward,” said Cureton, a Democrat running for reelection.
Bergen County Director Jim Tedesco called it an important step forward for the county.
“This is yet another example of our shared commitment to expand shared services for the benefit of our taxpayers, while protecting the safety and security of our residents, and we both look forward to exploring future opportunities with our neighboring counties, ”he said.
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