Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill calls for the closing of immigration facilities, including at Essex County jail at a Close the Camps rally in Elizabeth on July 2, 2019.
North Jersey Record
Three counties in New Jersey and one in New York have received more than $35 million to house immigration detainees at their jails so far this year and stand to collect millions more even as advocates continue to call for elected officials to stop helping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The county jails in Bergen, Hudson and Essex counties in New Jersey and Orange County, New York, have seen their ICE detainee populations grow since Donald Trump became president and could see more detainees as the administration continues its crackdown on illegal immigration and presses forward on stricter immigration policies.
Last year, the four counties collected more than $87 million for housing ICE detainees.
The growth in the detained immigrant population in New Jersey and New York, immigrant advocates say, goes against the immigrant-friendly policies the state of New Jersey has put in place and the sanctuary state bill that some New York Democratic lawmakers support.
Johanna Calle, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said the counties’ agreements with ICE don’t represent the will of the people.
“These counties’ local leaders can’t insist on profiting off the detention of immigrants and also claim to care about immigrant communities,” she said. “If they stand with immigrants and against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, then these ICE contracts cannot be in place, and immigrant detainees should not be suffering the horrible conditions that are continuously reported.”
But ending the contracts, which have brought millions to county coffers for years, presents challenges.
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County officials in New Jersey say that the state’s reformed bail system, which moved the state away from cash bail, has led to a drop in the state’s inmate population, which in turn has led county and jail officials to look for other ways to bring in revenue.
Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea said officials there continue internal discussions on how to fill the jail if the county were to end its agreement with ICE, which expires at the end of 2020. He said possibilities include housing state inmates who are about to complete their sentences and individuals from other county jails in the state. But he said discussions have been slow going.
“We have made some progress, but not as much progress as I would like to have made,” he said.
Some who oppose ending the contracts say that even if local jails stop housing ICE detainees, the federal law enforcement agency will continue to arrest individuals and then be forced to house them in facilities in other states, far away from their families.
Larry White of the Bergen County Immigration Strategy Group, a group of residents who have been lobbying Bergen County officials to be more transparent about their ICE contract, said that he has been researching what others have done once they canceled their agreements with ICE. Localities in several states, including Virginia and California, have cut their ties with ICE recently.
“We are still trying to gather information on successful ones, and create a proposal,” he said.
ICE detentions surge
ICE detentions are at an all-time high, with more than 55,000 individuals being held in August in county jails and private detention facilities across the United States.
The facilities in New Jersey and New York are collecting money not only for housing immigrants arrested in the interior but also for housing individuals apprehended at the border. In May, more than 300 people were transferred from the border to detention facilities in the New Jersey and New York area, ICE said. In June, July and August, 243 individuals apprehended at the border were sent to either the Essex jail or a private immigration facility in Elizabeth, according to figures provided by ICE in Newark.
So far this year, Essex County, which charges $117 per detainee per day, collected more than $14 million between January and May, according to figures provided by the county. Hudson County, which charges $120 per detainee per day, billed nearly $6.7 million between January and April, and Bergen County, whose rate is $110 per day, per detainee, charged $9.4 million from January to July, according to invoices.
The Orange County Correctional Facility, which gets paid $133.93 per detainee per day, billed more than $4.7 million to house ICE detainees in Goshen from January to July of this year.
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Essex County, which houses only male ICE detainees, makes the most money from its ICE agreement. In 2016, the county received $29.5 million from ICE for housing detainees, and two years later, in 2018, that number jumped to nearly $34.9 million, according to figures provided by Anthony Puglisi, the county spokesman.
Hudson County, meanwhile, billed more than $19 million in 2016, with that figure climbing to $25.1 million in 2018, according to invoices provided by the county.
Bergen County and Orange County house fewer detainees for ICE than Hudson and Essex, but still saw increases.
In 2016, Bergen County charged ICE $6.9 million, but two years later, that number swelled to $16.5 million. Orange County saw the least change between those two years, billing $8.3 million in 2016, and $8.6 million two years later.
Besides the county jails, New Jersey is also home to a private facility located in Elizabeth that houses about 300 detainees. That facility is run by CoreCivic, a private company that runs immigration detention facilities and prisons across the country.
Some of the county sheriffs also charge for the transportation of immigration detainees, according to invoices provided by the sheriff’s offices.
So far this year, Bergen County has billed ICE $113,528 for providing two officers for medical transports. Hudson County charged $51,170 through the first four months of the year for transportation to the federal immigration courts in Newark and Varick Street in New York, according to the invoices.
Essex County collected more than $180,000 in transportation costs in the first two months of the year, according to figures provided by the county.
In recent years, after advocates pushed for changes, some county officials have allocated some of the funds collected from ICE to help pay for services for immigrants being detained.
Hudson County, for instance, has appropriated a portion of the money it receives from ICE to help improve the quality of life for immigrants being held at the Kearny jail, O’Dea said. He said funds are used to pay for English language classes and hospitality training courses that are offered to immigration detainees. The county also set aside more than $200,000 to help pay for legal representation for ICE inmates, O’Dea said.
Essex County also created a legal fund for ICE detainees and set aside $750,000 this year, Puglisi said.
Derek Sands, spokesman for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, said the office is in constant dialogue with immigrant advocates about services that they can offer ICE detainees, including expanding its educational offerings.
See a month-by-month breakdown of how much counties were paid below.
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