(Photo by Fran Baltzer for the New Jersey Monitor)
It’s been six weeks since immigration advocacy groups began urging Gov. Phil Murphy to sign the bill on his desk banning federal immigration detention center contracts.
Now, those calls are mounting — even coming from across the Hudson River — as progressive groups press the Democrat to make New Jersey the fifth state to ban contracts for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers.
On Tuesday, three New York-based organizations providing free legal representation to detained immigrants asked Murphy to sign S3361, which would prevent state, local, and private corrections facilities from entering into new contracts with ICE or renewing existing pacts.
“Our years of experience working on behalf of detained people in these facilities have made clear to us that ending ICE detention is a moral imperative. Not one person needs to be incarcerated during their removal proceedings. ICE detention is inhumane and unjust,” the groups said in a joint statement.
The Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, and Brooklyn Defender Services have represented detainees in three of New Jersey’s detention centers, located in Hudson, Essex and Bergen counties, through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project.
Other local groups, including the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, Make the Road New Jersey, and the American Civil Liberties Union, have already pushed Murphy to sign the bill.
Democratic elected officials around the state have been pilloried by critics in their own party for contracting with the federal agency, and there are signs the officials are beginning to side with ICE critics.
Essex County announced earlier this year it would end the contract with the agency, and ICE plans to move all detainees to other facilities by Aug. 23.
Hudson County officials have also hinted they’d be open to getting out of their current contract, although it was just renewed for 10 years in 2020. In Bergen County, the number of detainees has dwindled.
Our years of experience working on behalf of detained people in these facilities have made clear to us that ending ICE detention is a moral imperative.
– The Bronx Defenders, The Legal Aid Society, and Brooklyn Defender Services
A few days after the ICE bill passed, Murphy, who is seeking a second term in November, conceded on an episode of WNYC’s “Ask the Governor” that he hadn’t fully read it but said he’s “conceptually … supportive.”
The measure has its opponents. Other than the Republicans who voted against the legislation, the New Jersey State Bar Association urged Murphy to veto the bill.
Members of the bar claimed their clients were being transferred hundreds of miles away to remote ICE facilities, further west or south, and away from their families. According to NorthJersey.com, the bar also recommended Murphy improve detention standards and due process rights.
The New York legal groups said the bar’s position is “detached from the violent realities of ICE detention,” adding the lack of due process is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Instead of transferring people to remote, faraway locations, ICE should release people from its custody as it has the authority to do,” they said in a statement.
A Murphy official did not comment on when the bill would be signed, but noted the governor has until the next time Assembly reaches quorum, which is likely in November.
If Murphy signs the bill, New Jersey would become the first East Coast state to ban future ICE contracts. The Garden State would join similar efforts in California, Washington, and Illinois.
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