ICE Says Bergen County Jail Detention Center Is Overcrowded, But At-Risk Detainees Still Aren’t Getting Released


Immigration and Customs Enforcement says its detention heart on the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey is about 50% over capability, elevating considerations concerning the unfold of the coronavirus as attorneys proceed to battle to get medically-compromised immigrants out of detention. 

A doc from ICE, submitted by immigration attorneys to federal court docket as a part of a nationwide class-action lawsuit to launch immigrant detainees liable to demise, signifies that the ability was 71% over capability in November and 41% over capability final month. 

The Bergen County Jail Sheriff’s Workplace, which will get a $110-per-detainee day by day charge from ICE to jail detainees, denies that there’s overcrowding. A spokeswoman for Sheriff Anthony Cureton, a Democrat elected to the place in 2018, stated that the ICE dorms are literally beneath capability, at 15 detainees per unit. She stated there are about 500 inmates on the facility, together with ICE detainees, and the capability is 1,150 individuals. The jail is in compliance with state social distancing pointers, she stated.

ICE declined to remark for this story to clarify the battle within the knowledge.

Nonetheless, the statistics again up considerations raised by detainees that they’re unable to maintain secure from COVID contained in the jail, as a consequence of overcrowding and lax medical care. Their complaints got here to a head late final yr, when a collection of starvation strikes behind bars sparked near-daily anti-ICE protests outdoors the jail, a few of which led to clashes with police. 

Cureton, the sheriff, has repeatedly defended the medical care and total remedy of ICE detainees, saying they’re cared for and shielded from the coronavirus. 

Cureton stands at a lectern with other wardens


Sheriff Anthony Cureton outdoors the jail

Matt Katz / WNYC

13 detainees on the Bergen County Jail now have COVID, essentially the most of any ICE detention heart in New York or New Jersey, in line with ICE. Courtroom papers present that ICE estimates 35% of the inhabitants at Bergen is medically compromised, and liable to getting COVID. 

The category-action lawsuit, often known as Fraihat vs. ICE, was initially filed in 2019 looking for the discharge of detainees. Final yr, a federal choose ordered ICE to assessment the information of all detainees to see if they need to be launched based mostly on medical threat components that improve their possibilities of contracting COVID.

However attorneys say ICE has not complied with the court docket’s order, dragging its ft in reviewing instances and refusing to launch essentially the most weak, whilst services proceed to lack cleaning soap, PPE, and correct medical care. They allege that ICE doesn’t present medical information, ignores requests for weeks, and rejects releases for unclear causes. Final week the attorneys requested the court docket to nominate a particular grasp to make sure ICE complies. 

At Bergen, detainees have repeatedly been denied launch underneath Fraihat. Pissed off, dozens went on starvation strike final yr to demand their releases, and some alleged that ICE officers threatened to disregard the court docket order by not reviewing their instances until they began consuming.

Protesters hold signs asking that prisoners be released


An anti-ICE protest on the jail.

Matt Katz / WNYC

“To us, that may be a clear violation of the court docket’s order,” stated Veronica Salama, an legal professional with the Southern Poverty Regulation Middle, which introduced the Fraihat go well with. “You’ll be able to’t withhold somebody’s [review] due to their constitutionally protected exercise. And in order that’s a technique that we have seen the New York [ICE] subject workplace violating the court docket’s order.”

Final fall, about 30 detainees from the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark had been moved, with out warning or clarification, to the Bergen County Jail. Attorneys concerned within the Fraihat case say the motion of individuals out and in of institutionalized areas can contribute to the unfold of COVID. 

There have been practically 9,000 COVID instances at ICE’s 118 services. One estimate confirmed that the speedy unfold of COVID  inside these services is accountable for 245,000 individuals nationwide contracting the virus. 

Matt Katz reviews on air at WNYC about immigration, refugees, hate, and nationwide safety. You’ll be able to comply with him on Twitter at @mattkatz00.