ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On July 9, the Essex County freeholders approved a resolution opposing the transfer of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees to facilities in different states around the country. The resolution expressed the board’s opposition to this practice, and called on the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to promptly halt all transfers of detainees to facilities outside of the state where they are currently held.
The Essex County Correctional Facility currently holds approximately 350 detainees in custody for ICE, which is a decrease of more than 44 percent since mid-February 2020, according to a press release from the county. When ICE transfers detainees to different facilities around the country, the detainees are often separated from their families and attorneys, and the ability to successfully contest their immigration status in court is severely limited, the release read. The freeholder board recently passed a resolution increasing the county’s funding for the legal defense of undocumented detainees held in the ECCF to $900,000 per year; if a detainee is transferred, the legal counsel provided by the county’s initiative will not be available to them.
Additionally, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transfer of detainees from one state to another increases the risk of the virus spreading, according to freeholders. As a result of the ECCF’s COVID-19 testing program, which tests all inmates and detainees for the virus, less than half of 1 percent of the current total population is housed in special quarantine units, the release read. It is the position of the board that ongoing, numerous transfers of detainees can spread the virus from one place to another and threaten the lives of detainees and corrections officers; the surrounding communities outside of the prisons will also be placed at greater risk of contracting the virus when staffers leave the facilities and return home to their families.
On June 10, the board passed a resolution demanding DHS and ICE release the detainees being held due solely to their immigration status to the custody of their families. Calling on DHS and ICE to stop the transfers of detainees is an additional measure to help slow the spread of COVID-19 should DHS and ICE comply with these requests.
“Many of the detainees in ICE custody are contributing neighbors to our communities who are being held without having committed a crime,” Freeholder President Brendan Gill said. “Transferring them away to another state makes it more difficult for them to contest their immigration status in a court of law, and it will also contribute to the spread of the virus if they are transferred to facilities who do not have established testing and quarantining procedures for their inmate population. It puts their lives at risk, and it puts our communities at risk. I was pleased that the board passed this resolution calling on the transfers to be promptly halted.”