Immigrant Rights Advocates Applaud Assemblyman Johnson’s Introduction of Legislation Banning New and Renewed ICE Detention Contracts

Immigrant Rights Advocates Applaud Assemblyman Johnson’s Introduction of Legislation Banning New and Renewed ICE Detention Contracts

New Jersey -- Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020 --  Today, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson introduced legislation (A-5207) that would prohibit new, renewed, and expanded contracts to detain immigrants in New Jersey. This includes public and private detention agreements with federal immigration enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The legislation’s introduction shows New Jersey will no longer ignore or tolerate ICE’s inhumane and unjust treatment of immigrants within our state. 

The legislation responds to ICE’s issuance of two Requests For Information (RFI) for additional detention space in New Jersey and the tri-state area, potentially doubling the current capacity for detaining immigrants. The increase in bed space will lead to more ICE enforcement, detention, and cause more family separations in New Jersey.

The bill will ban new detention agreements with public and private entities, as well as the renewal or expansion of current ICE detention contracts in New Jersey. Immigrant rights advocates and impacted immigrants who have lived through immigration detention in New Jersey welcomed the legislation.

"New Jersey should not continue to detain immigrants. I was detained in immigration detention for four months during which time I was also separated from my family. Immigration detention is a very terrible place to be. After being released, I left behind many friends who still call me to talk about how much they continue to suffer and how much they miss their families while they remain in detention. This legislation will keep more people from having to endure this situation," said Lucas Guerra, member of American Friends Service Committee - Immigrant Rights Program.

For decades, advocates and residents have called on local counties to end their contracts with ICE. Currently, Bergen, Essex, and Hudson counties have agreements to hold immigrants in detention as they await adjudication on their immigration cases. Additionally, CoreCivic, a private corporation, operates a private ICE detention facility in Elizabeth, NJ.  

“Locking people up for civil immigration proceedings has separated families and caused incalculable trauma across New Jersey and the nation. Through decades of contracts with ICE, New Jersey counties have been complicit in the cruelty of federal immigration detention. This bill is an important step toward dismantling this system, and we call on New Jersey to say no to profiting off the detention of immigrants once and for all,” said Ami Kachalia, Campaign Strategist, ACLU-NJ

Immigrant detention, which is purely civil, is inhumane and harmful to the individuals detained, their families, and immigrant communities. ICE detention facilities in New Jersey have a long history of civil rights violations and mistreatment. All four detention facilities have experienced outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic due to lack of social distancing and access to PPE, substandard conditions, and inadequate access to medical care. Five correctional staff at Hudson County Facility and at least one staff member at the Elizabeth Detention Center have died due to complications from the COVID-19 virus. 

Recently, nine immigrants in custody at the Bergen detention center held a 30-day hunger strike in protest of their detention and the conditions in the facility. In response, ICE transferred many of the individuals on hunger strike to remote detention facilities in upstate New York and Florida in an attempt to end the public attention on the hunger strikers’ plea for release. 

“The proposed bill will make a tremendous and lasting impact on the lives of our clients and immigrants across the country as our state takes this bold and needed stand against the injustices of the current immigration system. The people of New Jersey have clamored against these facilities for years and I am proud that these calls are finally being answered in our state’s legislative halls,” said Joelle Lingat, Detention Attorney with American Friends Service Committee - Immigrant Rights Program

However, the bill will not affect Bergen County’s ICE detention contract because it does not have an expiration date, signaling the need for community organizing and government accountability at the local level. In the past month, local residents and activists have called on county officials to end their collaboration with ICE, in particular, Hudson County and Bergen County. Despite the outcry, the response from county officials has been to ignore the overwhelming public opposition to the ICE contracts and to continue to profiteer from the detention of Black and brown immigrants. 

“As a resident of Bergen County, I strongly object to the detention of individuals in the Bergen County Jail while they are awaiting the outcome of their immigration cases. It is cruel and inhumane to jail individuals purely for revenue purposes; this system is destroying the well-being of the detainees and their families. New Jersey needs to get out of the business of immigrant detention,” said Ellen Ray, a First Friends NJ/NY Volunteer, and Bergen County resident. 

In 2019, approximately 1,700 individuals were held in detention facilities every night in New Jersey. In 2020, the number severely decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent need to release as many people from confined spaces as possible. Even so, county officials are continuing ICE detention contracts to fill vacant space with immigrants. 

“Locking up human beings is not an appropriate governmental fundraiser. A county government takes on moral culpability when it abets the imprisonment of ICE detainees.  Freeing the captive is a commandment that has resonated with Jews since the imprisonment of Joseph in Egypt. As taxpayers, as citizens, as voters, as the people of New Jersey, we are implicated.  We cannot wash our hands of this guilt.” said Rabbi Joel N. Abraham, Board Secretary, Faith in New Jersey

After Hudson County Commissioners broke their promise to phase out their contract with ICE by the end of 2020, voting instead to renew the ICE detention contract at Hudson County facility for another ten years, both New Jersey U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker issued strong statements that they stand against any ICE detention contracts in the Garden State.

If the bill is passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Murphy, it would go into effect immediately.