WWhen New Jersey passed a bill banning new, renewed, or extended contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in August 2021, it came as a shock. Barely two years earlier, The nation reported on the cynical profits of deep blue counties where Democratic officials have denounced the Trump administration while generating huge revenues by holding ICE inmates in county jails. While the passage of S3361 / A5207 is a victory for the movement – bringing New Jersey to the national forefront of immigrant justice – it raises the question of what it means to abolish ICE at the state level in the era Biden.
Resistance to the ICE collaboration dates back decades in New Jersey, although the Trump years saw heightened activism, county government meetings disturbed by songs and sing to civil disobedience in the streets. When the pandemic made ICE detention a possible death sentence, ICE inmates at all four New Jersey facilities went on repeated hunger strikes, with those outside offering their support.
All of this resistance work reached both its peak and its nadir in November 2020, when Hudson County landowners (now Commissioners) voted 6 to 3 to renew their contract with ICE despite overwhelming unanimous opposition. ‘a hundred speakers. They had publicly presented their two-year renewal for 2018 as a “exit pathBut this time around, county executive Tom DeGise cited the new Biden administration as a reason to extend the deal for up to ten more years.
The 12-hour county meeting was a feat of organization, attracting speakers from all walks of life, including those who had been detained in Hudson County and spoke about its horrors, but it also reflected the lack of democratic accountability demonstrated in New Jersey well managed county machines, where incumbents are immune to challenges. The Hudson showdown underscored the need for a state-level strategy away from the fortresses of impenetrable machines. He also consolidated abolition as a consensus of the movement. However, the risk that the end of ICE contracts could lead to the transfer of detainees to facilities in other states, far from their families or lawyers, has arisen. During debates over Hudson’s contract renewal in 2018, the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), which provides pro bono representation to New Yorkers detained in New Jersey, argued against termination of the contract. In 2020, NYIFUP instead took a neutral position. Staff unions, including many immigration attorneys who represent those detained in New Jersey, presented a statement calling at the end of the Hudson ICE contract.
Concerns about transfers remained, but attention shifted to how ICE contracts also helped produce detention. When the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office documented cooperation between law enforcement and the ECI, it showed hugely disproportionate levels of access to ICE to detainees, notifications to ICE, and even continued detention of those eligible for release in Essex County, in fact, in the sanctuary town of Newark, where the prison resides. When asked to report, county officials explained that “due to our contract with ICE, the agency has staff who closely monitor the facility and all who are there. hosted “. They also falsely claimed that they were “obligated” to carry out “ICE requests that a detainee be detained under warrant”.
The state bill met opposition from anti-immigrant groups as well as from the chairman of the Hudson County commissioner, Anthony Vainieri, who claimed that without ICE revenues, “taxes will rise.” , testifying an hour before vote to increase your own salary. But activists and immigrant rights organizations lobbied for its passage.
And then, as the bill slowly progressed through a series of difficult and nerve-racking commissions and hearings, New Jersey’s political landscape suddenly changed. At the end of April, Essex County officials announced their intention to end their ICE contract. This inspired Hudson County officials – the very ones who had just embarked on another ten years of ICE detention five months earlier – to come forward “determinedâTo terminate their contract. Bergen County has stopped accepting newcomers, and the owners who rent the Elizabeth Detention Center from CoreCivic, the infamous private prison management company – perhaps tired of the incessant phone calls to Kean University and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where they serve on boards of directors and honorary positions – have filed a lawsuit to break their lease.
The bill was finally adopted at the end of June. He promises that New Jersey will, in time, abolish ICE. But while no new or renewed ICE contracts can advance in New Jersey, the new law does not immediately affect existing contracts. Indeed, as Gov. Phil Murphy hesitated to sign the bill â dragging it around for over two months as he listened to New Jersey State Bar Association lobbying and took a vacation in Italy â CoreCivic called for a renewal. end of his ICE contract, extending his relationship with the Elizabeth Detention Center until 2023 (the owner’s lawsuit is still ongoing). Early media coverage of the Essex County decision uncritically reported the press releases as fact; The New York Times incorrectly stated that Essex County was “endâHis ICE contract when he did no such thing. Instead, he simply âdepopulatedâ the prison with inmates; his current contract runs until 2026 and nothing prevents him from resuming immigration detention by then.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Democrats have been mostly keen to distance themselves from the ICE – without exerting upward pressure within the party for releases rather than transfers, the top priority of rights activists today. immigrants. Essex County Commissioners, to their credit, responded to community inquiries and sent a letter to Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez calling on them to use their influence to ensure more humane ICE policies, but few others followed suit. Although Hudson County Commissioner Albert Cifelli has repeatedly expressed concern over transfers to justify the renewal of the country’s ICE in November 2020, for example, he and his colleagues appear to have lost interest in the question now that transfers actually occur.
“They didn’t get the message,” says Marcial Morales, who has organized hunger strikes in Essex and Bergen counties and, since his release, has helped coordinate mutual aid funds for the services. inmate stewardship and telephone access. The law may be a victory, but, he adds, “we are calling for releases.” Kathy O’Leary, longtime coordinator of Catholic group Pax Christi, invites Booker and Menendez, with their influence on the policies of the Department of Homeland Security in Biden, “to join us in a campaign to shut down the remaining facilities. , which reduces the number of people in cages, not just in mixed bodies so that counties and private companies can continue to generate income through the incarceration of members of our community.
Instead, Democratic officials turned to new sources of revenue. The most infuriating aspect of New Jersey’s rejection of ICE, for many activists, is that it is simply based on a move towards new forms of prison funding. Essex County Director Joseph DiVincenzo described the county’s decision as made possible by a lucrative new contract with neighboring Union County to house their inmates, and Hudson officials are openly thirsty for similar contracts. Instead of rethinking the county’s budget dependence on incarceration, they swap one set of caged bodies for another. It’s a perverse and disappointing way to abolish the ECI, but the struggle continues. As Tania Mattos, organizer of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, which has played a central role in the Abolish ICE-New York / New Jersey coalition, notes, “it is absolutely necessary” that the abolition of ICE and the abolition of prisons are merged; “Only when we see these two issues as closely related will it lead us to liberation and safety.”