NEWARK, NJ - City Council President Mildred Crump called for the end of Essex County’s contract with federal authorities that allows for immigrant detainees to be housed at a county jail in Newark.
The Essex County Freeholders first approved the contract worth over $49 million with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities in 2011 to detain immigrants at the county correctional facility on Doremus Avenue. The contract was reauthorized in about three years ago.
“Their choice is not one I would make,” Crump said yesterday on the steps of the Essex County Hall of Records.
“I think there needs to be further investigation. There has to be a level of community and commitment from the people that we depend upon to work with us as residents who are opposed to the negative image that is projected. We need to change that image to a positive one.”
Crump stood with protesters led by Jay Arena, who ran for county executive last year against Joseph DiVincenzo. Arena and other groups that attended the rally yesterday called for the jail to be shuttered entirely.
"They're financing the county on the backs of immigrants -- trafficking human beings,” Arena said. “Our position is you don't finance the county with blood money. We need to end this contract and we need to tax the billionaires to fund and expand our public services.”
Newark City Council last year was also asked by protesters led by Arena to pass a symbolic resolution that opposes the county’s contract. The council said last year it had no jurisdiction over the matter since it's a county issue, but Crump was absent from that meeting.
Other local councils have passed resolutions speaking out against similar contracts in Hudson County, such as Jersey City and Hoboken. Crump said she would consider putting a similar resolution up for a vote.
Mayor Ras Baraka in 2017 designated Newark a sanctuary city, which makes the appearance of having a county jail that detains immigrants in Newark complicated. The mayor said that Essex County's cooperation with ICE should end, especially in the age of President Trump.
DiVincenzo, the county executive, announced the creation of a $750,000 legal fund for immigrant detainees at the county jail. The announcement came about a month after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a report that outlined several unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the jail during a 2018 visit.
“We believe continuing the program keeps detainees close to their families and attorneys; were we to end the contract they would be sent to other facilities further away,” DiVincenzo said in a statement after the protest. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with Newark to address issues affecting the city and county."
Essex County Freeholder President Brenden Gill told TAPinto Newark after the protest he supports a “responsible” end to the ICE contract. He cited some of the same concerns as DiVincenzo about keeping immigrant detainees close to their families and legal support.
“It’ll be up to the administration whether they want to continue this contract or not,” Gill said. “But if it comes back to the board, I would not vote for it or support it again.”
A lawsuit was also filed against the county and the Essex County Correctional Facility's medical care provider after a man hanged himself there while wearing a straightjacket. Crump said she wants more than a “cosmetic wash” to address issues at the jail that go beyond conditions for immigrant detainees.