For Reporters: Please refer to NJAIJ's Fair and Welcoming -New Jersey for All Platform educational press brief linked here. The brief answers questions regarding A5207/S3361 and the "Values Act. Send your questions to Hera Mir at NJAIJ.
Newark - Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 -- The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ) calls on State leadership and legislators to act on A5207/S3361, legislation that would ban new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts or renewals and extensions of existing contracts.
Despite community calls to the Assembly Law & Public Safety Committee who met this morning, A5207 was not included on the agenda. Collectively, this committee’s members represent nearly half a million immigrant New Jerseyans. The call to action follows a whirlwind week as New Jersey made national headlines over local contractors signaling an end, or depopulation, to their ICE detention agreements.
A5207/S3361 was originally introduced by Senator Weinberg and Assembly Member Johnson in December 2020, following a fierce political debate over local ICE contracts -- Hudson County had just renewed its ICE detention agreement for the maximum period of time allowed by law and both Hudson and Bergen County’s facilities faced a series of hunger strikes in protest over treatment and conditions. The bill has languished for four months, especially following a Senate committee hearing in March when it was suddenly pulled from a vote. NJAIJ now calls on State leadership to meet the political moment again by passing A5207/S3361 to ensure that new ICE detention agreements do not happen in the wake of recent news.
After years of local grassroots mobilizations and organizing against local ICE detention contracts, New Jersey gained historic ground on ending the immoral practice of profiting from immigrant detention. All three New Jersey Counties with ICE contracts signaled their willingness to end or allow their ICE detention contracts to expire, or to refuse new transfers. Additionally, Core Civic, the private corporation running the ICE detention facility in Elizabeth, faces a new lawsuit from its landlord seeking to exit the lease due to the disregard to public health within the facility.
The multi-year fight against ICE contracts had centered on inhumane conditions, treatment, and abuse suffered by people detained by ICE and the lack of transparency and accountability within facilities. Following the news about local agreements last week, many advocates were alarmed that contractors justified their decisions as fiscal ones: Essex heralded a new deal to incarcerate people from Union County, Hudson indicated a willingness to pursue an agreement with Mercer County, and Bergen signaled openness to working with the US Marshal’s Office.
The New Jersey State Legislature is missing a moral calling -- where local politicians face scrutiny over deals that further entangle their county budget’s with carceral deals, State leaders have an opportunity to enforce a high moral standard by prohibiting ICE from ever returning to New Jersey, regardless of how profitable future deals may become. This ban would bring New Jersey one step closer to truly becoming a fair and welcoming state.
Further, New Jersey faces a unique political moment. Immigrants and New Americans are one of the fastest-growing constituencies in the State and among citizens, a quarter-million New Jerseyans live with an undocumented household member. Immigrant justice is quickly becoming a “kitchen table” political issue for the state. As lawmakers prepare for upcoming primary elections, the passage of the bill would recognize the growing political power of immigrant New Jerseyans.
NJAIJ calls on State leadership to act now to immediately legislate the ban on new and renewal of ICE detention contracts and create trust in access and opportunity with immigrant communities and encourages the public to make their voices heard.
"We are discouraged by the lack of motivation at NJ state legislature to discuss an important bill (A5207/S3361) that would greatly curb immigration detention in New Jersey. NJ has made millions of dollars from immigration detention that led to human misery and broken families. After a horrifying year for immigrant detainees, we finally see a glimpse of hope to end detention and change narratives and put human lives before dollars. NJ state legislators need to join this wave of change, support immigrant family unification and vote to pass A5207/S3361,” said Chia-Chia Wang, Organizing and Advocacy Director, American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program.
“While we welcome the end to the Essex County ICE contract, we call upon the Essex County Commissioners to leverage their power and resources to ensure that ICE detainees are released to continue their legal cases from home. We are dismayed by the announcement that in order to fill budget gaps Essex County will accept loved ones incarcerated in Union County as though we should applaud the trading of one population for another. This demonstrates a continued willingness to see primarily Black and brown souls as mere dollars and is immoral. We must divest from incarceration and invest in restorative justice practices that honor the dignity of everyone. This is why, in order to make a New Jersey that stands on the pillar of morality, we call on you to pass A5207/S3361,” said Charlene Walker, Executive Director of Faith in New Jersey.
"The inability to muster the political will to pass A5207/S3361, despite the groundswell of movement on the local level, is a stain on our state. The notion that immigrant justice issues are divisive is either a willfully false hysteria, or an indicator that lawmakers are woefully out of touch with their constituencies and communities just weeks before primaries. There's no excuse not to act now and permanently free our state from ICE's grip,” said Amy Torres, Executive Director of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
“From Union to Mercer to Hudson to Gloucester to Passaic, we hear all of this consolidation of County jails and youth facilities. What a celebration... However, humans are again on an auction block for the highest bidder,“ said Cuqui Rivera, Chair of the Criminal Justice Reform Committee of the Latino Action Network. “Just this week, we learned that Union county celebrates a savings of $103 million for the county from its jail closing, another $24 million from closing its juvenile facility.
“After all of the protests and outcry from advocates about ICE contracts go unheard, power structures see the light of ‘money’. Who benefits from this revenue? How much of this ‘money’, if any, will go into addressing the conditions of these facilities and the resources for released prisoners who have served their time, these "human beings" "these people. Without A5207/S3361 becoming law, local leaders will always prioritize money over morals,” Rivera said.
“Casa Freehold stands strongly with partners around New Jersey and beyond against detention of all immigrants. We have a long history of protesting the existence of detention centers and the horrible conditions inside them. During COVID-19 conditions have greatly worsened with too many ill and dying. With broad support around New Jersey for ending ICE detention contracts, our legislators do not serve their constituents by holding up the path of humane progress. Now is the moment to vote on A5207! Law and Public Safety Committee: We demand this be put on the agenda,” said Rita Dentino, Executive Director of Casa Freehold.
"As longtime opponents of the ICE detention system, we welcome the Essex County decision to end their ICE contract and hope to see others in New Jersey make the same decision. Ending such contracts eliminates the perverse financial incentives to separate families and leave children without a parent. We support further legislative action to prevent the use of local resources for federal immigration enforcement, a practice which unfairly targets working people, especially from Black and Brown communities. Now, it is even more critical to pass A5207/S3361 to prevent ICE from initiating new contracts with other jails or private prison operators to detain immigrants,” said Ellen Whitt, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War.
"Unitarian Universalist FaithAction New Jersey strongly urges passage of legislation that would reduce the detention of undocumented persons in our state. As people of faith who recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we must stand against the incarceration of people not because of any criminal action but merely because of their status as immigrants. Hundreds of migrants should be released from harsh jail conditions and reunited with their families and loved ones while their legal case is resolved,” said Ted Fetter, Chair of the Immigration Justice Task Force of Unitarian Universalist FaithAction New Jersey.
"It is shameful that these two bills (A5207/S3361) have not been placed on the Law and Public Safety Committee agenda. They are critical for the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of immigrant families and for all New Jersey communities. None of the immigrants who are in detention would be in jail if they were U.S. citizens. There is strong grassroots community support for ending ICE contracts in New Jersey. The contracts exist solely because of the money being made off them. Similarly, there is no justification for the obscene profiteering off the video calls that connect people in jail with their families. It will be inexcusable if these bills are not brought to the floor of the Assembly and Senate and passed promptly. It will be even more outrageous if this delay leaves the door open for new contracts or renewals,” said Jon Moscow, Co-Chair Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition.
NJAIJ is a statewide coalition of 43 member organizations, representing 150,000 people, that creates and achieves policies that support New Jersey's immigrants. We uphold the human, civil, and labor rights of all immigrants, whether documented or seeking status, and prioritize keeping families together.