Gov. Phil Murphy could have prevented the renewal of a contract to house immigration detainees at an Elizabeth facility, advocates said as they urged him to sign a law banning such deals in the state.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that it has extended its contract through August 2023 with CoreCivic, one of the country’s largest private prison companies, to house detainees. Currently, CoreCivic leases a building in an industrial section of Elizabeth where it houses the detainees for ICE’s Enforcement Removal Operations in New Jersey. The current population at the facility is 134.

“Despite having legislation on Governor Murphy’s desk in June, failure to sign it into law has allowed ICE to extend its stay here,’’ the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice said in an online post Friday.

CoreCivic Inc.’s second-quarter earnings report, published last week, said ICE had notified the company that it planned to extend the contract at the 300-bed Elizabeth Detention Center through Aug. 31, 2023.

Ryan Gustin, spokesman for CoreCivic, referred questions on the contract renewal to ICE. He also declined comment on whether a pending lawsuit by Portview Properties, who owns the building in Elizabeth, against CoreCivic would affect the contract renewal.

COVID-19 an issue in lawsuit

Portview Properties, in the lawsuit filed in May in Superior Court, has asked the court to terminate its lease agreement with CoreCivic, claiming the company breached its contract by not following federal guidelines and requirements to stop the spread of COVID-19 at the facility, leading 51 people in custody to test positive for the coronavirus.

Gustin said that the company takes very seriously the responsibility to care for those in its facilities, including the Elizabeth Detention Center.

“We work hard to ensure those entrusted to our care are treated respectfully and humanely,’’ he said. “The safety and well-being of these individuals and our staff is our top priority.”

CoreCivic has asked the courts to dismiss the lawsuit. A. Ross Pearlson, attorney for Portview Properties, did not return a call or emails seeking comment. But in a letter to the court, Pearlson said that they were scheduled to start an arbitration hearing before the American Arbitration Association in July. A hearing in Superior Court is scheduled for September.

Meanwhile, immigrant advocates and other groups that have lobbied for the rights of those detained continue to call on Murphy to sign the bill (A-5207/S-3361) that’s been on his desk since June. The measure would prohibit state and local agencies as well as private correctional facilities from entering, renewing or extending agreements with federal immigration authorities to detain immigrants who don’t have authorization to legally live in the United States.

This week, the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services, which have represented detainees held in New Jersey detention centers, located in Hudson, Essex and Bergen county jails, called for Murphy to act on the bill.

“Our years of experience working on behalf of detained people in these facilities have made clear to us that ending ICE detention is a moral imperative,’’ a statement from the group said. “Not one person needs to be incarcerated during their removal proceedings. ICE detention is inhumane and unjust. It serves no purpose other than to break the spirit, fortitude, and will of people who are exercising their procedural and substantive due process rights to stay in the United States.”

Besides the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union has also publicly asked Murphy to sign the measure into law.

The bill was approved by lawmakers in both the state Senate and Assembly in June.

Alyana Alfaro, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, has declined comment on the legislation.

We’re in this together
For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
Donate to NJ Spotlight