Hudson County seeks to sever ICE contract after years of protests
Revenue from a re-entry program would plug budget hole
The recent renewal of a contract between an Elizabeth detention center and ICE angered immigrant advocates. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
Hudson County officials are planning to exit their 10-year contract with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement to hold immigrant detainees at the county jail, a change that comes after years of protests by immigrant advocates.
The move would make Bergen County the only publicly run jail in New Jersey that houses ICE detainees, following Essex County’s decision in April to sever its ICE contract. For years immigrant advocates and activists have pushed the Democratic leaders of all three counties to stop working with the federal agency.
“There will be a further announcement on the future of the jail but right now, the only thing that’s official, or hopefully will be next week, is that we’re withdrawing from the ICE (contract),” said Tom DeGise, the Hudson County executive.
DeGise said county commissioners will discuss the contract at their next meeting on Wednesday and may then give ICE the 30-day notice required by the agreement. Commissioners haven’t been meeting with the federal agency, he said.
“Within a week or so, there will be changes at the Hudson County Correctional Center,” he said, noting it would take “months, not days or years” to end the contract and decide what to do with the detainees.
This comes there weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill banning state, county, and private facilities from renewing or entering into new contracts with ICE, meaning Hudson would not be able to renew its contract when it expires.
The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice applauded the news out of Hudson and the increasing momentum to close detention facilities, but said in a statement they “will only celebrate once everyone is in the care of the community and fighting their cases from home.”
“The brutality and rancor of Hudson County Commissioners’ 2020 contract renewal is still fresh on everyone’s mind. That’s why this announcement — which comes just days after the state banned new ICE detention deals — is such a major win for the immigrant justice movement,” said Amy Torres, executive director of the organization.
The news of the Hudson contract was first reported by The Jersey Journal.
As activist anger over the ICE contracts grew in recent years, Democratic officials in Bergen, Essex, and Hudson grappled with the revenue implications of severing the pacts. In Hudson, ICE paid the county $120 per detainee daily, which amounted to $20.5 million in 2019. The amount has declined as fewer immigrants are housed in the jail.
Recently, officials capped the number of detainees at 50 at the Hudson County facility, located in Kearny. Currently, about 45 people are being held there, but as many as 300 migrants were held there in 2017.
The revenue loss will be offset by a pilot prisoner re-entry program that was approved at Thursday’s county commissioner meeting.
The Hudson County Pilot Re-entry Program will help recently released inmates get job training, ease back into the community, and address substance abuse issues. The state budget allocates $7 million for the program.
“Based on the approval of the pilot program, the issue of revenue related to the facility should no longer be an issue. And it’s fantastic because it helps individuals who were incarcerated, and will lower the recidivism rates,” said County Commissioner William O’Dea.
O’Dea said county officials have talked for several months about how to replace the revenue the county receives from ICE.
The money has sharply declined in the last year, the result of the coronavirus pandemic and federal immigration policies no longer being heavily enforced.
“If there’s an opportunity to not have to worry about the revenue the county was deriving from ICE detainees, which has become less and less over the last few years anyway, that is great,” O’Dea said.
This isn’t the first time DeGise has said he wants to exit the ICE contract. In 2018, Hudson officials said they’d end their agreement in 2020. But in November 2020, the board voted to extend the contract for 10 years, despite hours of statements from advocates and late-night protests.
If Hudson votes to exit its contract, two ICE detention facilities would remain in New Jersey: CoreCivic in Elizabeth, which renewed its contract until 2023, and the Bergen County Jail, which holds an agreement with no end date. Officials at both facilities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Essex County Jail ceased holding immigrant detainees in August. The jail entered an agreement to house Union County inmates instead, raking in $11.3 million in revenue from that county.
O’Dea called on DeGise and other county officials to ensure that a formal exit plan from the contract includes releasing the detainees, rather than transferring them.
“We wouldn’t want a bus to pull up the next day and take these 45 individuals, and next thing we know they’re in Montana or Texas,” he said.
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