New Jersey County Ends Lucrative And Controversial Jailing Of ICE Detainees


Essex County, New Jersey, is ending its long-standing and controversial detention of immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pledging Wednesday to maneuver detainees out of its correctional facility in Newark by the top of August and resolving what had grow to be a political vulnerability for the all-Democratic county board of commissioners.

The county collects $117 a day per detainee from ICE, and the funds are used to bolster the county funds and management property taxes. The county mentioned it can make up for the hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in misplaced in ICE income by housing criminally charged inmates from neighboring Union County, by means of a shared providers settlement with that county’s board of commissioners that’s anticipated to usher in $11.3 million a 12 months..

As Essex’s inhabitants of undocumented immigrants elevated underneath the Trump Administration, so did income — and scrutiny. Detainees staged starvation strikes inside the ability as they complained of deplorable circumstances — inedible meals, poor medical care, officer assaults, and the unfold of COVID-19. And activists made passionate pleas at county conferences and protests, resulting in arrests.

County officers largely defended the contract, saying they handled detainees effectively and stored them near their households by housing them in Newark. Most detainees on the jail lived in New Jersey earlier than they have been arrested by ICE and have been put into deportation proceedings for missing authorized paperwork.

Many detainees at Essex are additionally Inexperienced Card holders who have been transferred to the ability after serving time in jail for unrelated prison offenses, which triggered orders of deportation. Different ICE detainees are undocumented immigrants who haven’t been charged or convicted of crimes. All are held whereas they combat orders of deportation in court docket or await journey papers to allow them to be faraway from the nation. Some are eligible to be launched with digital ankle screens, however can’t afford bail.

Progressive activists and others responded to the information Tuesday morning with glee, saying they hoped the 2 different Democratic counties within the state with ICE contracts — Hudson and Bergen largely maintain detainees from New York — would comply with swimsuit. In Hudson County, Democrats had vowed to finish their ICE contract by 2020, however flipped final 12 months and renewed it for a decade after an settlement to fill the jail with inmates from one other county fell by means of. The Bergen County Sheriff, who can also be a Democrat, has likewise refused to finish that county’s ICE contract regardless of detainee starvation strikes and protests exterior the jail that turned violent.

In vowing to “depopulate” the ICE inhabitants to zero by August 23, Essex is just not formally canceling the ICE contract. It would nonetheless exist, however won’t be exercised, officers mentioned.

In saying the top of ICE detention, Essex County Government Joe DiVincenzo didn’t take an ethical stance in opposition to ICE and its aggressive immigration enforcement practices. As a substitute, he framed the choice as fiscally sound — the identical manner he had lengthy defended the contract.

“We’ve got had a really strong working relationship with ICE over the past 13 years,” DiVincenzo mentioned. “It has all the time been in the perfect curiosity of the detainees to stay near their household, pals, attorneys and neighborhood organizations serving to them in a facility that was protected and safe. Our [Essex County Correctional Facility] fulfilled this duty very effectively and we thank ICE for his or her partnership.”

However Essex County Commissioner President Wayne Richardson mentioned commissioners had “heard clearly and persistently from constituents involved in regards to the ICE contract,” and he “doesn’t condone insurance policies that detain people for no purpose apart from their unauthorized entry into the US.” So far, Commissioner Brendan Gill had been the one county elected official to oppose the contract.

Income from ICE skyrocketed underneath the Trump Administration, and never simply due to former President Trump’s deal with arresting undocumented immigrants no matter their prison historical past. New Jersey had an availability of jail beds resulting from a bail reform regulation that led to fewer criminally charged people getting locked up whereas awaiting the disposition of their instances. The ICE contracts in New Jersey counties — Essex, together with Hudson and Bergen — allowed Democratic officers to keep away from layoffs of corrections officers and employees.

Essex County has taken as a lot as $3 million in a single month from ICE, although income has plummeted because the onset of the pandemic as arrests dropped and detainees have been launched resulting from COVID-19 issues. Earlier than the pandemic the county held about 600 detainees, however the inhabitants this week is all the way down to 165 detainees — about 75% beneath pre-pandemic ranges, in accordance with county information.

Hearken to reporter Matt Katz’s radio story for WNYC:

A 2019 report from the Division of Homeland Safety’s inspector common concluded that immigrants at Essex have been held in “unsafe and unsanitary circumstances.” They cited expired and discolored lunch meat, meatballs that smelled like “fecal matter,” and “foul smelling and unrecognizable” hamburger patties. A detainee additionally discovered a guard’s gun unattended in a rest room. County officers mentioned the problems have been instantly addressed, they usually cited different inspections that gave the jail excessive marks. Following the inspector common’s report, a meals supervisor was fired.

Later that 12 months county prosecutors investigated an allegation that guards beat and sexually assaulted two ICE detainees within the showers, the place there aren’t cameras. No prices have been filed and the allegations have been deemed meritless, however inner experiences in regards to the conflict between detainees and officers that precipitated the alleged assault revealed a chaotic atmosphere: An officer’s bulletproof vest was stripped off and briefly misplaced, handcuffs have been misplaced, and pepper spray was deployed.

Different detainees at Essex have additionally accused corrections officers of abuse. And when detainees instructed Gothamist/WNYC about substandard medical circumstances on the jail, one detainee was allegedly retaliated in opposition to by being put into solitary confinement, assaulted by a guard, and subjected to racist and homophobic intra-jail mail.

Just lately Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez got here out in opposition to county preparations with ICE, with Menendez calling the contracts “blood money.” State Democrats additionally proposed a regulation banning ICE detention within the state.

Opposition to Essex’s ICE contract ultimately led county officers to make some modifications. They created a fund to supply authorized help for detainees, who don’t have a constitutional proper to an lawyer, they usually began a civilian activity drive to independently assessment complaints in regards to the facility.

In current months some New Jersey residents held by ICE have been moved from the Essex jail to Bergen County’s facility. It’s unclear the place New Jersey detainees shall be detained after August. An ICE spokesman mentioned the company is reviewing its choices, domestically and nationally, for relocating the Essex detainees.

Not all activists have been proud of at present’s announcement. The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice mentioned that whereas it has lengthy pushed for the termination of the ICE contract, “there is no such thing as a celebration.”

“The selection to finish the ICE contract with a view to fill beds with individuals from Union County is a call the place nobody wins — the place households will proceed to be separated, the place abusive circumstances and lack of accountability inside the jail techniques will proceed, and the place counties will proceed to revenue off of ache and punishment,” the group mentioned in an announcement.