HUDSON COUNTY, NJ - Some Hudson County officials hope to get out of the 10-year contract with federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) renewed last year to house federal immigration detainees at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny.
The $120 in daily revenue the county receives for the service provided helps fund operations at the facility that has seen a decline in its regular prison population partly due to change in laws such as bail reform.
ICE holds detainees in the facility for a number of reasons, including confirmation of legal status or other immigration issues. County jails house prisoners serving a sentence of a year or less, or people waiting trail unable to raise bail. But a detainee can be held indefinitely while waiting for their cases to be adjudicated.
Although the population of detainees has shrunk from slightly more than 800 in 2018 to a current population of 50, the issue has become part of a larger conflict that has activists from throughout the region pressuring Hudson and other counties as part of a larger strategy to eliminate the ICE program entirely.
Many assumed that a Biden Administration would eliminate or curtail the activities of ICE, something that hasn’t materialized since he took office in January.
While Hudson County officials have put great effort into upgrading facilities and providing a litany of services to those detained, those against the policies have been unrelenting, many claiming that Hudson County promised two years ago to do away with the contract by 2020 but renewed instead.
“Since 2018, Hudson County has worked to improve conditions for ICE detainees in our Corrections & Rehabilitation Center as we reduced their total number in our custody as part of the “Path to Exit” effort announced by our administration, Chairman Vainieri, and the Board of Commissioners in 2018,” said DeGise in a statement. “As our programming improved during 2019, our number of ICE detainees in the facility declined by more than two thirds. And while that occurred, our administration negotiated new ways for our Corrections & Rehabilitation Center to effectively serve the public interest by housing additional federal and state individuals in custody.”
While the contract has an opt-out clause, this can only be initiated by County Executive Tom DeGise, who has been reluctant to do away with the contract for several reasons. If the contract is eliminated, detainees will not be set free as many activists claim but will be shipped to facilities elsewhere in the country.
“They are not our detainees, they are here because of ICE and ICE will bring them to some other facility,” Romano said. “That’s part of the concern.”
Responding to concerns of several key decision makers, including one county commissioner who said that “we are in a tough position,” as eliminating the detainee program would likely lead to higher local taxes, or a reduction to other county services, DeGise pointed to other efforts to populate the facility that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including agreements with the US Federal Marshals and New Jersey Department of Corrections.
“These approaches, now being touted in the press as something new, have long been underway—it is the pandemic that has affected their impact.”
Saying that his Administration has been working on ways to resolve the issue for months, and that the political ground on the issue has shifted in both Washington D.C. and Trenton, DeGise on Monday called for patience.
“All we ask is that our administration, those on our Board of Commissioners and the vast majority our residents who want a responsible solution receive not just words to solve what is truly a systemic issue, but concrete support from Washington and Trenton to help us do so as we anticipated before the pandemic struck,” DeGise said.
“The remaining open issues, including that detainees will have access to services like local legal counsel wherever they go, and assurances from our state and federal partners that Hudson County taxpayers are not negatively impacted must be addressed."
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