“New ICE Detention Facilities Are Not Welcome In New Jersey And The Tri-state Area,” Immigrant Rights Advocates Say

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Photo Courtesy: New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice

NEW JERSEY: In response to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Requests For Information (RFI) for additional detention space within 60 miles of their New Jersey and New York field offices, immigrant rights advocates are raising the alarm. The consequences of additional ICE detention capacity in the area are serious; any increase in bed space will escalate ICE enforcement activities in immigrant communities across the tri-state region.

“The agency seeks information for facilities that would add 1800 beds, doubling the current capacity for detained immigrants in the Garden State”. 

New Jersey hosts four of ICE’s detention facilities in the Bergen, Essex, and Hudson county jails, and a private detention facility in Elizabeth. While immigration detention has always been unsafe and unsanitary, the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the dangerous — and deadly — nature of the immigration detention system. As the tri-state area moves into the second wave of COVID-19, it’s more apparent than ever that increasing the number of detention beds in the region is a threat to public health and everyone’s safety.

Thanks to the efforts of detained individuals and advocates, the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic in detention and jail facilities have been brought to the attention of the public. ICE’s decision to continue detaining people during the pandemic has led to outbreaks at New Jersey facilities and staff members’ deaths at Hudson County Jail. Many federal court decisions have now recognized that ICE has been detaining medically vulnerable people during the pandemic in conditions that put their health and lives at risk.

In June, detained individuals represented by the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrants Rights Program, New York University School of Law, and the Immigrant Defense Project filed a class-action lawsuit to release all immigrants held at the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC). The lawsuit calls attention to the unsafe conditions at the facility, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In retaliation, ICE’s Newark Field Office deported Hector García Mendoza, one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, just one day after the case was filed. Since he was deported, Hector has gone missing — neither his attorney in New Jersey nor his family in Mexico knows where he is, and they fear for his life and safety.

Hector’s case shows how ICE retaliates against immigrants who speak out against the numerous instances of human and civil rights violations inside detention facilities. The growing list of abuses includes the egregious living conditions, forcing Cameroonian migrants to sign their deportation orders, and forced surgeries reported by immigrant women detained by ICE in the Irwin, Georgia facility. In 2017, a man detained at the Hudson County detention facility died due to medical neglect he experienced while in ICE detention. Additionally, a 2019 Department of Homeland Security internal investigation found dangerous conditions with a lack of access to sanitary food and a hygienic living environment at the Essex Detention Facility.

The two RFIs signal the agency’s plans to renew its presence in New Jersey and throughout the tri-state area. The increase in bed space will lead to more ICE enforcement, detention, and family separation in New Jersey.

Currently, ICE holds multi-million dollar contracts with Essex, Hudson, and Bergen counties and a contract with CoreCivic, which runs the private detention facility in Elizabeth. These facilities are dangerous and have created a public health crisis made worse by COVID. In the past several months, many detainees have been transferred out of New Jersey or deported. Additional facilities will only further harm our communities with increased ICE enforcement.

Immigrant rights advocates demand that New Jersey refuses any new ICE contracts or facilities.

Christian Estevez, President of Latino Action Network, said,

“We’re in a moment in our state and nation where there are increasing calls for divestment from incarceration and detention, systems which disproportionately impact Black and brown bodies. At a time when we should be investing in our communities over the carceral state, it is unconscionable to think that we could see additional detention facilities established in the tristate area. Latino Action Network stands in opposition to any plans to increase detention capacity in New Jersey. This will only lead to an increase in harms to communities that are already underserved and overpoliced.”

Chia-Chia Wang, Organizing and Advocacy Director of American Friends Service Committee-Newark said,

“It’s disheartening to learn ICE’s continuous plans to detain and deport immigrants and to separate families despite this challenging time facing our society. Detention and deportation are a pipeline to family separation and broken communities. It’s never a better time to realize these facts and for us to call for defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement now.”

Amol Sinha, Executive Director of ACLU-NJ said,

“Every year, ICE jails thousands of our loved ones, friends, and neighbors in an immigration system that treats communities of color with brutality, tramples constitutional rights, and tears families apart. But our state does not have to be complicit in this cruelty. The ACLU-NJ opposes immigration detention. We call on all New Jersey residents, businesses, and elected officials to stand together against ICE’s attempt to expand immigration detention in our state.”

Charlene Walker, Executive Director of Faith in New Jersey said,

“Faith in New Jersey recently completed immigrant listening sessions across New Jersey as part of our national LA RED campaign. In our report  Our Stories, Our Futures: The Voices of Immigrant Communities, we found that immigrants are experiencing great fear, trauma, and racism due to this administration’s current immigration policies.

“We condemn the wickedness of ICE for this attempt to expand detention to further profit off of Black and Brown bodies through detention. Faith in New Jersey calls upon all legislators to call for an immediate moratorium on all detentions and begin to work to redeem the soul of this nation.”

Maneesha Kelkar, Interim Director of New Jersey Alliance For Immigrant Justice said,

“The terrible conditions and treatment of immigrants in ICE facilities have only amplified the risk of COVID19 for people in detention. ICE detention leads to family separations in our very own backyard.  We must refocus to invest in our communities rather than the carceral system, which traumatizes and depletes resources from black, brown, and poor neighborhoods. We reject any new ICE detention facilities or contracts in New Jersey so that all people, regardless of where they are born, can live with safety and dignity.”

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