As number of detainees drops, NJ moves to bar ICE contracts

Bill bans governments from allowing immigrants to be held by federal authorities in local jails
Credit: (NJ Spotlight News)
The Hudson County Corrections Center where 41 ICE detainees were being held as of Tuesday.

While state Democratic lawmakers moved to ban new immigration detention centers from operating in New Jersey, the federal immigration population being held at local facilities continues to dwindle.

On Tuesday, there were fewer than 300 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees combined at the county jails in Bergen, Hudson and Essex counties and a private facility in Elizabeth, according to ICE officials.

That same day, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a bill (S-3361) that would prevent state, county and local entities and private correctional facilities from signing new contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain those held on civil-immigration violations in New Jersey. The bill also bars the renewing or expanding of such existing contracts and was approved 9-3.

READ: Will NJ turn up the heat on ICE housing contracts?

WATCH: Advocates await action to end immigrant detentions in NJ

The bill will go to the full Senate before the end of the month, said Richard McGrath, spokesman for Senate President Steve Sweeney, an announcement welcomed by immigrant advocates.

“Today’s committee vote sends a clear message: Whether at the local level or in the halls of Trenton, the state’s doors are closing to ICE,’’ said Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “Each day that this legislation is not yet law is another day for ICE to attempt a new agreement in New Jersey. S-3361 must be voted on the floor and signed into law before summer.”

The Assembly passed its version of the bill Monday with a vote of 46 to 24.

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), primary sponsor, said Tuesday he was confident that the bill would be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy once it gets to his desk, but said he was not sure when that would be. The governor’s office does not comment on pending legislation.

Robbie Kenney, spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said they will oppose the bill, but declined further comment.

ICE looking to house additional detainees

The bill was introduced weeks after ICE solicited information in October for new detention sites to house up to 900 more detainees in New Jersey.

But in January, President Biden signed an executive order that bans the Department of Justice from entering into these agreements. In addition, Virginia, California, Michigan, Illinois, and numerous county officials in other states have outlawed the practice.

The New Jersey vote comes as the immigration population held on civil-immigration violations at facilities in the state continued to dwindle.

On Tuesday, an ICE official said the agency had 41 detainees at the Hudson County jail in Kearny, 108 in Essex, 42 in Bergen and 106 at a private facility in Elizabeth.

William O’Dea, a county commissioner in Hudson County, said the county does not plan to house more than 50 ICE detainees at any given time. He said county officials want to phase out of the county contract with ICE.

O’Dea said that county officials continue to look for ways to make up the revenue in other ways. He added that the jail is licensed as a substance-abuse treatment center, which allows it to take individuals who are nearing the end of their state prison and county jail terms.

“The hope is that it could be expanded, and I anticipate that in this coming state year’s budget, there will be funding to help us do that,’’ he said. “When you put that together, I think the county is getting close to having a real exit plan, and I’m hoping that happens this year.”

In November, the Board of County Commissioners in Hudson voted to extend their contract with ICE for up to 10 years, drawing anger from advocates who had spoken against the move before the vote.

Essex County officials said earlier this year that they would stop housing ICE detainees at the Newark jail by the end of August. Officials said they planned to make room for more inmates from Union County.

Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton said Tuesday that the Hackensack jail is currently not taking any more ICE detainees.

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