ICE presence officially lessened in North Jersey

Photo courtesy of Charles Rabada, Unsplash

Hudson County, N.J. will end its controversial contract with the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), releasing its 45 detainees from Kearny jail as of Nov. 1.

According to a letter obtained by The Jersey Journal on Sept. 10, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise informed ICE that they will no longer be accepting individuals who face civil immigration violations.

“To whom it may concern: Please be advised that effective November 1, the Hudson County Correctional Center will no longer house or accept any ICE detainees for housing,” DeGise wrote. “Until that time, the detainees currently housed at the facility can remain on the same terms as before.”

This termination comes nearly a month after Gov. Phil Murphy’s bill barring jails within the state from entering into new contracts with ICE. This development does not affect existing contracts, leaving many detainees in the same place as before: immobilized and incarcerated.

Conditions within the state jails, however, are still a point of contention, especially during the pandemic. A recent article by echoes the voice of 15 detainees at Hackensack’s Bergen County Jail who filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security in July, describing the living environment as “deplorable” and inhumane.

“Several detainees said that officers would send them in-house mail with vulgar slurs, ignore medical complaints and threaten physical violence for raising concerns,” the article continued, quoting the complaint. “One detainee said that a young boy whose attorney had sued ICE for abuse was deported in retaliation.”

It should be emphasized that the hostile climate within the jail is not specific to just Bergen County—it is both a statewide and national issue. Throughout the second term of Barack Obama’s presidency, New Jersey became a “hub” for immigration detention, especially in the Northeast, as cited by Chia-Chia Wang, the organizing and advocacy director at Newark’s American Friends Service Committee.

The motive for maintaining a relationship with ICE is largely economic. For each detainee and day of their imprisonment, the agency pays the county $120, which quickly accumulates over time. In 2018, for example, Hudson County’s jail housed about 700 detainees and, consequently, garnered millions of dollars in revenue that year. The pandemic has shown a negative trend as the significantly decreased number of inmates has had a similar effect on the county’s financial compensation. 

Though DeGise had voided their contract, he had indicated that the county is looking to replace the profit as a means to bridge their new budget deficit. Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly cited that they may house federal marshals’ prisoners or state inmates, as obligation to other federal detainees remains intact and equally lucrative.

Yet, the question of immediate freedom lingers. The issue of transferring detainees has been ongoing for years, and deemed as a weapon of mass incarceration among anti-detention advocates. According to The New Republic, activists will only deem Hudson County’s move a success if detainees are “release[d], not transfer[red].”

After a summer of challenging police power and a focus on Black liberation, local activists turned their attention toward ICE detention centers, particularly in Bergen County. A group of organizers founded Cosecha, a nonviolent movement fighting for permanent protection and respect for all immigrants in the United States. Together, they brought a rise in protests during the fall and winter months of 2020 and 2021. 

Peak resistance at this time included a number of hunger strikes and staged car caravans surrounding Hudson County Jail. “We lost count of how many hunger strikes were led by people inside these facilities,” Haydi Torres, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, told The New Republic. 

Abolitionist groups may find themselves in those positions again if Hudson County does not fulfill the goals of anti-ICE activists, rendering this a problem with no clear end in sight.