Eight of the state's House members and both its senators asked federal authorities to pull their support from a suit to extend immigrant detention. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Democrats in New Jersey’s congressional delegation urged the federal government to withdraw its support from a private prison operator’s suit to invalidate a 2021 state law banning immigration detention.
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, eight Democratic House members and both its senators urged the federal government to reconsider its stance that a New Jersey law banning contracts with immigration detention facilities is unconstitutional and threatens to harm the nation’s border control efforts.
The Department of Justice last month submitted a statement of interest in the suit lodged by CoreCivic, the world’s largest private prison firm and operator of the Elizabeth Detention Center.
The New Jersey law “aligns with President Biden’s stated vow to end the federal government’s use of privately operated criminal detention facilities,” the letter reads.
“We are troubled that the DOJ’s intervention could undermine that effort by continuing to take part in this lawsuit. CoreCivic’s quest to continue operating EDC in violation of [the law] undermines our state’s democratic process and is counter to the wishes of the community in Elizabeth, local congressional districts, and the state. It must not be met with support from the federal government,” the members said in the letter.
Rep. Donald Norcross (D-01) was the only Democratic member of New Jersey’s House delegation to not sign the letter. None of the state’s three Republican congressmen were signatories.
The Elizabeth Detention Center is the last corrections facility in the state that holds immigrant detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but its contract is due to lapse on Aug. 31 and cannot be renewed under the 2021 law.
CoreCivic has alleged the state law violates the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which prevents state law from overriding federal statute. A federal judge is expected to issue a key ruling in the case by Aug. 31.
The lawmakers cited reports from detainees and legal advocates that charged conditions at the facility, which CoreCivic has leased since 2005, were inhumane and included inmate abuse, poor medical care, and other sanitation violations.
“The EDC has a well-documented history of abuse, and for decades, communities across New Jersey have been demanding that our local facilities shut down,” Amy Torres of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice said in a statement. “Now it’s time for President Biden to keep his promise to end for-profit detention.”
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