ICE relocates dozens of detainees from NJ jails

MONSY ALVARADO, SOCIAL JUSTICE WRITER | JUNE 30, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

Essex County jail: In April it was announced the county would end its practice of housing federal ICE detainees.

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More than 30 federal immigration detainees at the Essex County jail were transferred Tuesday to unknown locations, raising concerns from advocates who have long pushed not just for the closure of such facilities but also for the release of those held in them.

Hours after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency made the transfers, some immigration attorneys said they were worried that detainees would not only be located farther from family and friends, but also from their legal advisers.

“It could range from bad to really bad, and really bad is going to be a situation where we can’t even talk to them, which often happens when our clients are transferred right before deportation,’’ said Jordan Weiner, detention attorney for American Friends Service Committee in Newark, who is expecting two of her clients to be transferred in coming days.  “In the past, I’ve found it impossible to contact them on my own, or for them to contact me.”

Attorneys added that ICE was not following immigration priorities set by the Biden administration, which direct the agency to focus its attention on arresting and detaining people who pose a threat to national security, border security and public safety.

“ICE has repeatedly chosen to continue the callous and inhumane practice of detaining and transferring people who are not enforcement priorities at unnecessary government expense, and at the risk to public health and safety during a pandemic,’’ said Sharone Schwartz Kaufman, the deputy attorney-in-charge from the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project and the Legal Aid Society.

Emilio Dabul, a spokesman for ICE in Newark, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the transfers Tuesday.

Worries over brother

Among those moved from the Essex County jail was Lenyn Munoz Paredes, 37, the father of a 4-year-old girl. His younger brother, Juan Munoz of Paterson, said that he found out Tuesday afternoon that his brother was now in Nevada. He said the family was devastated and that he was afraid to tell his parents that their son was no longer in New Jersey.

“We don’t know how we are going to visit him, speak to him, he has a daughter and nieces here,’’ Munoz said. “This has just made things 10 times harder for us.”

Munoz Paredes, who moved to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic when he was 12 years old, helped raise his younger brother.

“He used to pick me up from school in kindergarten and went with me to school to pick up my report card,’’ Munoz said.

Munoz Paredes, who had moved to Pennsylvania, was transferred to ICE custody in October 2019 after serving four years in prison on gun-related charges. Last year, he was among immigrant detainees at the Essex County jail who participated in a hunger strike to get released.

“When he got arrested, it was devastating to our family. We took a big hit with it, and now that he has been moved even further and if, God forbid, he gets deported, it’s just so stressful,’’ he said.

Ongoing decline in ICE detainees in NJ

The transfers come days after the state Senate passed a bill that would bar new contracts that allow county and private detention companies to house federal immigrant detainees in the Garden State. That bill, which would also prohibit the renewal or expansion of existing agreements, now awaits Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature.

Meanwhile, the number of ICE detainees held at the four ICE detention facilities in the state continued to drop, with fewer than 250 held on Tuesday.

Phil Alagia, chief of staff of Essex County, said around 30 detainees were transferred from that county’s detention center Tuesday and that the county has reminded ICE that it needs to remove all of its detainees by Aug. 23. In April, the county announced it would end its controversial, 13-year practice of housing federal immigration detainees at its county jail in Newark, choosing instead to house more non-ICE inmates from Union County.

Alagia said he did not know where the detainees were transferred or what their final destination would be.

There are four facilities in New Jersey that house detainees for ICE. Besides the 76 ICE detainees remaining at the Essex County jail Tuesday, there were 38 ICE detainees at the Bergen County jail and 32 in Hudson, according to Dabul, the ICE spokesman.

Dabul also said there are 95 detainees at a facility in Elizabeth run by CoreCivic, a for-profit detention company. The future of that facility is unknown since the owner of the building has filed a lawsuit to end its lease with CoreCivic.

Early-morning protest

Banan Abdelrahman, a campaign coordinator for American Friends Service Committee, arrived outside the Essex County jail around 5:15 a.m. Tuesday to join in a protest against the transfers where people held home-made signs that read “Free them All’’ and “Abolish ICE.”

Abdelrahman said she saw several vans, including those from ICE leaving the facility early in the morning. She said one protester followed one of the ICE vans all the way to Newark Liberty International Airport.

“We were hoping to put pressure to stop the transfers,’’ Abdelrahman said. “This for me is the worst part of our country and our humanity that we can do something like this. I feel I bore witness to something so heavy today.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-06-30 03:25:31 -0700