County commissioners adopt resolution calling for state to prohibit jails from housing undocumented individuals

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On June 9, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution of support for New Jersey State Senate and Assembly bills S3361/A5207. If signed into law, the bills would prohibit state, local government agencies and private detention facilities from entering into, renewing or extending agreements with federal immigration authorities to detain individuals charged with violating their immigration status, according to a recent press release.

Commissioner President Wayne Richardson said he views the pending Senate and Assembly bills and the Essex County commissioners’ resolution as significant steps forward. 

“While the county commissioners have worked to ensure proper services to ICE detainees under our care, we support legislation that removes Essex County from this custodial relationship with our residents, many of whom are detained solely for questionable immigration status,” Richardson said.

The resolution was introduced by Commissioner Brendan Gill and sponsored by acclamation. Essex County currently has a contract in place with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented residents suspected of violating their immigration status. Although this contract is in place until 2026, the board recently welcomed and supported County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.’s decision to completely depopulate the ICE detainees from the Essex County Correctional Facility by Aug. 23, 2021, to make room for detainees from Union County.

Within the last two years, the Board of Commissioners has worked with the county administration and local advocacy groups to provide nearly $2 million of county funds toward the legal defense of ICE detainees in the ECCF, and implemented the ECCF Civilian Task Force to address concerns regarding fair treatment of the detainees being held in custody. Since 2019, the Civilian Task Force has provided community-based, independent oversight of the Essex County Correctional Facility, and is the first independent oversight board of a county correctional facility, in the entire country, not mandated by court order.

“As I have stated on many occasions, I am against Essex County’s contract with ICE, and I am in favor of a responsible wind down of the contract,” Gill said. “The county’s decision to depopulate the ECCF of ICE detainees by Aug. 23, 2021, is a positive step towards removing Essex County from the process that leads to undocumented residents enduring the criminal consequences of incarceration, due to the alleged civil offense of violating their immigration status.”