In Brief

Migrant detainees in Bergen County ask Menendez, Booker to support their release

By: - November 1, 2021 6:55 am

Senate Housing, Transportation and Community Development Subcommittee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (R) talks with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) before a hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a four-page letter sent to Democratic U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, 15 former and current migrant detainees held in the Bergen County Jail pleaded with the senators to support the detainees’ pleas for release.

The Bergen County Jail is depopulating after severing its lucrative contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The remaining undocumented migrants are expecting soon to be transferred to a New York facility nearly 500 miles away.

“If our New Jersey elected officials do not act on preventing these transfers, we fear that we won’t be able to be properly represented. And separated from our families who won’t be able to travel miles away to visit us,” the letter reads.

They asked the two Democrats to urge ICE to release people who are not suspected of terrorism or espionage, and those who pose no threat to public safety, so they do not have to remain jailed while awaiting immigration hearings. Fourteen of the 20 migrants have been denied release, according to the letter.

“Some of us have come in contact with the criminal justice system but this transfer should not serve as a punishment to separate us from our New Jersey-based families and communities,” the prisoners wrote.

The detainees also allege the Newark field office has “for a long time … gotten away with many violations of civil and human rights.” They said they were no strangers to abuse and mistreatment inside the facility.

According to the letter, the immigrants detained in Bergen County applied for release but did not meet enforcement and removal priorities set by ICE.

Activists rallied in front of the jail in Hackensack on Wednesday, demanding the federal agency release detainees and not transfer them. Jean Ismael Bien-Aime-Nicolas, who was held in the jail for months, alleged an officer once put his knee on his neck and lower back.

Bergen County Jail is one of three New Jersey jails to cease detaining immigrants after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law banning any new or renewed contracts with ICE. Hudson County is also in the process of depopulating, while Essex County hasn’t held migrants since August.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.