Advocates Demand that Gov. Murphy Act Immediately to Free ICE Detainees & Reduce Jail Populations
The State of NJ can and should release all people from immigration detention
New Jersey- Immigrant advocates, political activists and social justice organizations are among the over 30 organizations who are calling on Governor Murphy to exercise his emergency power to immediately release all people held pursuant to contracts with ICE in the county jails as well as all those held at the Elizabeth Detention Center. The groups, lead by the coalition, Resist the Deportation Machine (RDM), sent the governor a letter yesterday morning calling on him to “act swiftly in the interest of public health and safety not only for those in the jails and detention center, but also for the public at large”. This letter affirms the position laid out in a separate letter that was sent to the Governor last week by the American Friends Service Committee- Newark People’s Organization for Progress, and other criminal justice advocates which called for the immediate release of as many inmates in New Jersey’s penal facilities as possible beginning with all non-violent prisoners, all elderly or sick prisoners and all prisoners nearing their release.
Eric Lerner, speaking for RDM explained the reasoning for making this demand of Governor Murphy, “while the people imprisoned for suspected immigration offenses in the county jails and the Elizabeth Detention Center are Federal prisoners, the Constitution grants states broad police powers to enforce order and ensure the health and safety of the general population. The Governor could order the release of ICE detainees under the state’s Constitutionally recognized general police powers to preserve the safety of those who work in the jail and the other inmates, as well as that of the general community.”
Jorge Torres of ICE Free NJ expressed the urgency to act now, “we are concerned for the people detained by ICE in the state of New Jersey, particularly those that, out of anxiety and desperation, have begun hunger strikes to protest their continued detention during a global pandemic. ICE does not provide them will adequate healthcare on a good day, now we are in the middle of the largest health emergency any of us has ever seen. Someone needs to act now to save lives,” said.
Covid-19 has already been confirmed in the case of a guard at Bergen County, two inmates in the Hudson County Jail, and a healthcare worker at the Elizabeth Detention Center. The threat of a major coronavirus outbreak in New Jersey’s jails and the Elizabeth Detention Center is imminent. People locked up in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease due to their deprivation of liberty, deteriorating health while in detention, physical proximity to others who may be infected, and the track record of inadequate medical care in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) custody. Over three thousand medical professional demanded on March 19 that ICE release the detainees now. Doctors employed by DHS itself have warned of “tinderbox” spread unless the detainees are released.
“Jails and detention centers are not sealed environments. They have large numbers of staff members who come and go and new detainees and inmates continue to be received. What happens within the jail is sure to spread to the local community. The concentration of people, plus the rotation of people through these facilities, make them extremely vulnerable. No one’s time in jail, particularly not civil detainees, should be converted to a death sentence because authorities refused to act. It is imperative that the people in ICE detention be released and not simply transferred to another detention facility hundreds of miles away,” said Yael Webber of Never Again Newark
On March 12th large numbers of detainees were moved by ICE to a detention center in Batavia, NY. It is too soon to know if these detainees were already exposed to the coronavirus and were simply asymptomatic.
The coalition members have reason to be concerned over the cleanliness of the facilities and the limited access to healthcare for detainees held in NJ. From 2010 to 2016 NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, a coalition of organizations concerned about the overuse and abuse of immigration detention, published a series of reports, in cooperation with the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, which documented the poor conditions in immigration detention including, lack of access to clean drinking water, inedible and spoiled food, abuse of solitary confinement and inadequate and denial of access to medical care.
From 2016 to 2018, ACLU, Detention Watch Network, Human Rights Watch, and the National Immigrant Justice Center released three reports detailing how inadequate medical care has contributed to numerous deaths in ICE custody. The dangerous and deadly effects of coronavirus are exacerbated in confinement, where people incarcerated are often malnourished due to rotting food and are denied information on the most basic of measures to prevent exposure of the virus.
“The governor cannot leave this urgent matter of public health and safety up to an agency that continues to show callous disregard for human life and health. It is imperative that he take action to protect the entire community by clearing the jails of all those who can be released without endangering public safety” said Alejandro Jaramillo, an organizer with Cosecha NJ.
Reports by NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees:
DHS’s own report on conditions inside the Essex County Jail: