ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Back in April, just one week after announcing that the Essex County Correctional Facility would begin housing detainees from Union County effective July 1, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. announced that the county had notified ICE to remove its detainees from the ECCF. According to DiVincenzo, as of Aug. 17, there are no more detainees in the county facility.
“As of today at 12 noon, there are no longer any ICE detainees housed in the Essex County Correctional Facility,” DiVincenzo said in an Aug. 17 statement. “We have had a very professional working relationship with ICE during the last 13 years. We have always maintained that this was in the best interest of the detainees to remain close to their family, friends, attorneys and community organizations helping them in a facility that was safe and secure. Our ECCF fulfilled this responsibility very well, and we thank ICE for their partnership. In April, we decided to enter into a shared services agreement with Union County to house their inmates in our facility. This already has proven to be beneficial for Union County to house their inmates without having to operate a costly facility and for Essex County to maximize the capacity of our accredited complex and generate revenue. Sharing services in this manner has helped both Essex and Union face our difficult financial challenges without reducing the level of service.”
The Essex County Board of County Commissioners had long been advocating for Essex County to end its contract with ICE, helping to create and fund the largest county legal aid program in the state for the detainees, and to create the first civilian oversight board for a correctional facility in the country.
“The board is pleased that the county of Essex is no longer detaining anyone based solely on immigration status and supports expeditious resolution for all persons detained under those circumstances,” Commissioner President Wayne Richardson said in an Aug. 18 statement. “Funding that was allocated for ICE detainees’ legal counsel remains available for use by their attorneys. As stated in the past, we look to our national leaders for a resolution that supports the unification of families and an expedited path to citizenship.”
While Essex County depopulating the ECCF of ICE detainees was hailed as a triumph by community advocates, many still expressed displeasure that the move came not as a stand against immigration policy and detainment in this country but to make more room at the facility to hold other prisoners.
“We are happy that the collective advocacy and pressure from numerous groups over many years has led the Essex County commissioners to this decision,” SOMA Action’s Immigrant Rights Committee said in an April 28 statement. “We do want to call attention, however, to the fact that this only happened because the county was able to replace the revenue generated from the ICE contract with another recently announced contract to hold incarcerated individuals from Union county. Let’s be clear: This decision was not a moral response to the calls from advocates. Rather, it is a disingenuous attempt to quiet the voices of groups like ours and our fellow advocacy groups, while continuing the county’s addiction to balancing its budget through revenues from the carceral system, which, as we know, disproportionately incarcerates black and brown people.”
The announcement that the ECCF had been completely depopulated of ICE detainees came just a few days before Gov. Phil Murphy signed A-5207/S-3361 into law; this new law prohibits state and local entities, as well as private detention facilities, from entering into agreement to detain noncitizens.
New Jersey is now the fourth state to limit or ban ICE detention contracts, joining California, Illinois and Washington. The new ban went into effect immediately upon signature.
“We thank Gov. Murphy for signing S3361/A5207 into law. Our communities have said this all along: ICE is a rogue agency that has no business in New Jersey, no matter who the president is,” said Juli, a member of Make the Road New Jersey, a community-based immigrants’ rights organization in Elizabeth, and a former ICE detainee. “When I needed help and protection from local law enforcement, I was wrongly arrested and detained in the Elizabeth Detention Center for three months. I did not know if I was ever going to see my family again. No one should live and work in fear in our state. This is an important step towards recognizing the dignity of immigrant communities.”
The ICE contract with the Elizabeth Detention Center remains active, as this law prevents only new contracts.
“Today, New Jersey sent a firm message that we refuse to be complicit in ICE’s cruelty and made clear that we cannot allow our communities to suffer the indignities of immigration detention,” Ami Kachalia, a campaign strategist with ACLU-NJ, said. “With this monumental step, New Jersey demonstrates its commitment to the national movement to end the mass detention of noncitizens.”