N.J. jail renews deal with ICE while bill banning new contracts sits on Murphy’s desk

Posted Aug 13, 2021

While Gov. Phil Murphy is on vacation with his family in Italy and a bill that would ban local jails from signing new contracts to house federal immigrant detainees sits on his desk, one privately-owned jail extended its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement until 2023.

CoreCivic, the private company that runs the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, recently renewed its contract with ICE to house federal immigration detainees until August 31, 2023, ICE-ERO Newark confirmed. The more than two-year contract extension was announced in a Tuesday earnings call by Damon T. Hininger, CoreCivic’s president and CEO, Documented reported.

The contract extension comes as a bill that would have blocked the renewal still awaits Murphy’s signature, having sped its way through the state Senate and the Assembly with resounding support. The bill prohibits New Jersey, local government agencies and private detention facilities in the state from entering into, renewing, or extending immigration detention agreements.

The bill rode a groundswell of support bolstered by abrupt announcements by several New Jersey counties that they would end contracts with ICE. The sudden announcement by Essex County to end its contract helped push the bill through both houses of the Legislature within one month.

Murphy’s office declined to comment on the pending legislation Friday.

To immigrant advocates, the timing of the renewal is boldfaced in its maneuvering and comes after their emphatic warnings that if the bill were not signed by Murphy quickly, ICE would pursue new contracts.

“What’s alarming is as soon as the bill passed the Legislature, we said the bill has to be signed right away, lest ICE approach any new jails or any new counties to open new agreements,” Amy Torres, Executive Director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, told NJ Advance Media on Friday. “And look what happened. That’s exactly what they did.”

The detention facility has faced years of allegations of “stark,” inhumane and abusive conditions within its confines. There have been numerous protests at the facility, calling for it to be shut down and immigrant detainees to be released.

“The litany of problems that have come out of the Elizabeth Detention Center are almost endless,” said Torres. “So to see ICE renew an agreement with that site in particular should worry everyone.”

Though Murphy is currently out of the country, Torres highlighted that the bill had been sitting with his office for weeks prior to his departure.

“He was around with plenty of time to sign it,” she said. “And it’s not a very long bill. We know that it has his attention because he’s twice said in public media interviews that it’s one of several bills he’s considered. We also know the Legislature moved incredibly swiftly to get it passed, in response to the closures happening at the local level.”

Three counties have already announced that plans to house immigrant detainees could come to an end. While Hudson County approved a 10-year contract with ICE, a county official said it would terminate the contract early if other forms of revenue can be found. Bergen County’s ICE contract does not have an expiration date, but the county is not taking in new detainees.

New Jersey counties have been making revenue by housing the ICE detainees — as much as $120 per person per day.

For Carlos Sierra, who came to the country from Cuba in 1989 and was held as a federal immigration detainee at the Elizabeth Detention Facility for more than two years, the bill was crucial to representing immigrants who have been detained at the facility, and those who still are.

“This bill to me symbolizes what New Jersey should stand for and is a step forward to end our participation with an inhumane detention system that has caused harm to me and my family and made it extremely hard for me to fight my asylum case,” Sierra said in an email. “I will never be able to see justice for what I was subjected to in detention, but this bill will bring some healing to me, my family, and New Jersey.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-14 02:48:39 -0700