NEWARK, NJ — On June 10, 2020, Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill and the Essex County Freeholder Board approved a resolution demanding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) promptly grant the release of all detainees currently incarcerated due solely to their immigration status.
The Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF) has housed undocumented detainees taken into custody by ICE since 2011. Although the detainees are held in the ECCF while awaiting immigration proceedings, by law they are in the federal custody of ICE and can only be released if DHS or ICE grants their release, or if an order for their release is issued by a Federal Judge.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, serious concerns have been raised regarding the spread of the virus inside the facility, the health of inmates and detainees, the health of staffers, and the likely possibility of the virus spreading outside of the facility. New Jersey, specifically Essex County, has been especially hit hard by COVID-19. There have been more COVID-19 positive cases and deaths in New Jersey than in any other state in the nation with the exception of New York; and Essex County, as of June 10, 2020, has had 1,723 deaths, which is more than any other county in the state. These unfortunate and tragic numbers highlight the need for government agencies and officials to consider all feasible possibilities to slow the spread of the virus.
The resolution cited an earlier decision by New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in which he signed an order releasing over 1,000 convicted non-violent offenders from jails across the state. His decision was made in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 by reducing county jail populations, as much as possible, without compromising public safety. With that precedent, as well as the health of the Essex County community in mind, Freeholder President Gill and the Board moved forward with the resolution.
Freeholder President Gill stated. “I supported the decision made by Chief Justice Rabner, and through the passage of this resolution, this Board implores the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take similar action to protect the American people.”