Bergen County Jail transfers last ICE detainees to facility 300 miles away
Bergen County Jail in Hackensack (Fran Baltzer for New Jersey Monitor)
For the first time in 30 years, the Bergen County Jail no longer holds any detainees under the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The last 15 detainees were transferred out Friday, a week before Bergen County had said they would clear the Hackensack facility of all detained immigrants.
Advocates from Pax Christi and First Friends of NJ & NY, who protested outside the jail in October calling for the inmates’ immediate release, said while four of the detainees were released, most of the men were transferred to a federal prison in Batavia, New York, about 30 miles west of Rochester.
The detainees’ families and attorneys were not notified about the move and none of them were able to take their personal belongings, including paperwork relating to their cases, said Kathy O’Leary, organizer with Pax Christi.
Recordings the migrants shared with Pax Christi and First Friends show some of them spent their last days in the Bergen County Jail sharing their experiences in detention, pining for their families, and expressing fear of being transferred far away.
“I don’t know what’s exactly happening. I really hope and pray for God that we don’t get transferred to another state where we don’t know nothing about it or anything that what’s going to happen to us, and we really pray that we be — that we really do be getting released,” said a detainee identified by advocates as Mr. R.
Another man said being transferred five hours away would bring crisis to his family, primarily his 82-year-old mother, who has been in and out of the hospital.
“It’s really going to take a toll on my family because it’s going to be a strain and the distance from, you know, wherever we going at,” he said. “The whole fear is that I’m hurt. I’m hurt inside. It’s really a very a tedious situation where I’m at right now.”
Detainees asked to be released and await immigration hearings under home confinement, but their lawyers said ICE denied the requests, citing public safety threats.
The immigration agency did not respond to request for comment, or for more information on the people who were released or transferred.
The Bergen County detention center was the last of the state’s publicly-run jails holding migrant detainees, after Essex and Hudson counties depopulated their facilities earlier this year.
After decades of ICE holding hundreds of migrants across the Garden State, all three counties severed their contracts with the agency after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law in August banning new or renewed contracts to hold federal immigration detainees. Murphy’s move came after years of pressure by immigrant advocates who chastised Democratic officials for working with ICE.
The last New Jersey facility to hold ICE detainees is CoreCivic, a privately run detention center in Elizabeth. It’s unclear how many detainees are still held there.
The Bergen County Board of Commissioners voted in early October to replace the county’s contract with ICE and instead enter into one with the U.S. Marshals Service to house federal inmates. The new agreement is expected to bring the county more money: While the county brought it $110 daily per ICE detainee, the new contract will bring in $125 per inmate daily.
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