ACLU sues Biden administration to halt transfer of immigrant detainees from Essex County

NEWARK, NJ — In its first legal challenge to an immigration policy filed during the Biden administration, the American Civil Liberties Union launched a federal class-action lawsuit on June 30 that seeks to block immediately the long-distance transfer of ICE detainees from the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.

The case was brought by the national ACLU, the ACLU of New Jersey and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on behalf of individuals detained at the facility who are facing transfer. 

Essex County officials recently announced they were ending a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract with the facility, which as of June 30 held roughly 100 immigrants for ICE. 

When facilities close, ICE routinely transfers detained immigrants to remote spots across the country — in particular to Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and other places in the Deep South, according to the ACLU. The result is that they are transferred — often hundreds of miles from their families, support networks and attorneys — and those who have ongoing immigration proceedings could be subject to having their cases considered in jurisdictions with much less favorable case law.

“We sued the Trump administration over 400 times, and the Biden administration is trying to resolve many of those suits. Today’s suit is a challenge to a decision made by the Biden administration — it’s not a Trump hold-over,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said. “True to form, we will sue any administration — Democrat or Republican — and hold them accountable when they take positions that violate civil liberties and civil rights. This may be one of the first lawsuits filed against the Biden administration by advocacy groups, but I’m guessing it won’t be the last.”

The lawsuit cites violations of due process and the Immigration and Nationality Act. The groups are asking the court to prevent ICE from transferring immigration detainees at Essex who are represented by counsel to facilities more than 100 miles away.

“Transferring hundreds of people far away from their families and attorneys violates the rights and dignity of New Jerseyans, and we’re calling on the courts to stop this policy of gratuitous cruelty,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said. “Especially in New Jersey, which offers legal representation for immigrants in detention who face deportation, the policy of transferring people deprives community members of their rights and fails to treat them with the dignity they deserve. We have a duty to allow people to await their immigration proceedings in communities rather than in detention, to avoid disrupting lives and depriving people of their constitutional rights.”

“Immigration detention needlessly deprives thousands of immigrants their liberty each day, and transferring immigrants to facilities hundreds of miles away only exacerbates this injustice,” said Joseph Meyers, Justice Catalyst Fellow at the National Immigration Project. “Today’s lawsuit challenges the transfer of immigrants detained in New Jersey far from their attorneys and communities. The government must end this harmful, unfair and unlawful practice, and instead allow people to be released back to their families and communities.” 

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