MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The Essex County Freeholders called for the ouster of the New Jersey Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman but have not budged on ending its controversial contract with the agency.

The Freeholder Board at its Wednesday meeting in Maplewood passed a resolution supporting other lawmakers who have called for Emilio Karim Dabul to be terminated from his position as ICE spokesperson. Dabul has publicly defended people who the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled anti-Muslim.

Dabul referred questions to ICE headquarters in Washington D.C. A spokesperson from headquarters responded with a brief statement, which included a link to a Politico article examining the Southern Poverty Law Center’s marketing and financial practices.

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“These continued personal attacks against a dedicated public servant are unacceptable and undermine the credibility of local officials who are engaging in reckless, false smear campaigns,” said ICE spokesperson Elizabeth Johnson in a statement.

The measure from the freeholders comes amid months of protesters attending meetings and     demanding the county end its contract with ICE. The federal agency detains those suspected of being undocumented immigrants at the county correctional facility in Newark.  

The contract with ICE in 2011 was expected to generate $49 million annually for the county. The freeholders renewed the contract in 2016 and slightly increased the rate the federal government paid for each bed at the facility from $108 to $117 per day, according to records obtained through a public records request.

Freeholder President Brendan Gill said the board is considering holding a public hearing about the contract to listen to more constituents and evaluate a potential course of action, but no date has been scheduled yet.

“There's not a consensus that the county should get out of the contract at this point," Gill said when asked why the county hasn’t eliminated the contract. 

Rutgers University - Newark professor Whitney Strub co-authored two opinion pieces denouncing Essex County's ties to ICE and today said a portion of the county's budget was funded "through immigration detention and suffering." He attended the Wednesday freeholders meeting and said the resolution regarding the ICE spokesman may signal they are beginning to reconsider the county's contract.

“I think this new development is the first fracture in their collaboration with ICE, and their first public acknowledgment of the ICE's sheer toxicity,” Strub said in an email. “Of course, while they rightly call for Dabul's removal, they stop short of acknowledging that Dabul does represent ICE's values: intolerance, Islamophobia, and nativism.

Strub, who is also the director of the Women's & Gender Studies program at Rutgers, previously called on Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to clarify if he will be in favor of leading city council to pass a resolution supporting the end of the county’s contract.

Baraka acknowledged Essex and other counties have been working with federal immigration authorities and “in the age of Trump, that cooperation must end.” Last year, Baraka also signed an executive order declaring the city a sanctuary for immigrants.

Despite Baraka’s executive order, an undocumented immigrant was arrested in June by Newark police during a traffic stop and held for federal agents after they found he had an ICE arrest warrant for deportation.

Jay Arena, who is running against Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. in November, has been an outspoken critic of the county’s contract with ICE. He led a group of protesters last month to demand that Newark City Council denounce the county's contract. 

City council said it does not have weight in the issue since they have no jurisdiction over the county jail. The council president at the time also labeled Arena’s call to action as a campaign stunt.

Jersey City and Hoboken have passed symbolic resolutions denouncing Hudson County’s contract with ICE.  Although freeholders there signaled they would end Hudson County's contract with ICE, they voted last week to extend the agreement through 2020. 

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