Immigrant Community Members Urge Governor Murphy to Make Anti-Detention Bill Law Immediately
Immigrant Community Members, Advocates Urged Governor Murphy To Immediately Sign Bill Into Law During Immigrant Heritage Month
NEWARK, NJ — Monday, June 28th, 2021 — Immigrant community members and immigrants’ rights advocates called on Governor Murphy to sign bill S3361/A5207 to prohibit new, renewal, and expansion of ICE detention contracts statewide. Last week, both houses of the NJ legislature passed the legislation sending it to Governor Murphy’s desk for his signature to become law. If signed, New Jersey would lead the East Coast as the first state prohibiting new, renewed or expanded ICE detention contracts, joining California, Illinois, and Washington whose states also limit or ban ICE detention agreements.
On June 1st, Governor Murphy declared June as Immigrant Heritage Month in New Jersey. Community members and advocates say that the anti-detention bill honors immigrant heritage by protecting immigrant futures and the families who otherwise face the threat of immigration detention. While the law would not affect existing ICE detention sites until their end or renewal dates, all counties with existing ICE contracts have signaled they are looking to exit or wind down their current agreements.
“The passing of S3361 proves what our communities knew all along – ICE has no business in New Jersey. When I needed help and protection from local law enforcement, I was wrongly arrested and was detained in the Elizabeth Detention Center for three months. I did not know if I was going to see my family again. No one should live and work in fear. Governor Murphy, our communities deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, we urge you to sign S3361/A5207 into law,” said Juli, member of Make the Road New Jersey.
“I was detained for almost two and a half years in the detention center. It was really hard to stay there. I suffered from depression because of the amount of stress over there. There is no facilities, no access to medical situation, no sanitation while Covid is going on,” said Mohammed Imran Shahid, previously detained in Elizabeth Detention Facility. “I had surgery in my neck while I was detained after two years. I had lipoma but the facility and food were not sanitary. There is no reason to keep people over there who want protection or safety, who came to spend their life in the country and want protection.
“ I don’t know why they keep the people there. They should not detain people there. I don’t know why they would do that. I was suffering a lot. Thankfully, I got out with help to get out of this place,” continued Shahid. “They should close the detentions for the people who want and came to this country for protection. They should not keep people over there for 2 years or 3 years without any reason. They should not keep people in detention. That’s the best option. Don’t keep people inside detention because people came to this country to get a safe environment and protection.”
Noemi Peña, a mother who has twice been affected by New Jersey’s immigrant detention system, shared her statement in support of the legislation last week. Noemi’s husband was detained and deported by ICE and her son, Marvin Peña, was detained at Bergen County before being transferred to Batavia ICE facility in upstate New York. Noemi is left as the sole caretaker of her 5-year-old daughter and her 2-year-old grandson and is calling on ICE and federal officials for the release of her son, Marvin.
“This is such wonderful news. I wish my husband and son could be with me to rejoice, but I know god had other plans. However, I am still really happy that I was part of the community that made this happen and I pray that this means only good things are to come for other immigrant families like mine in the state of NJ,” said Noemi Peña, mother of two and member of American Friends Service Committee – Immigrants Rights Program in Newark.
Immigrants’ rights advocates and social workers provided the following statements
“This new bill comes after years and years of local organizing and momentum which has led to success at the state level. We call on Governor Murphy to show his commitment to immigrants in New Jersey by signing the bill this month, during Immigrant Heritage Month. Detention does not belong in New Jersey and people should not be separated from their families, no one deserves that trauma, said Banan Abdelrahman, Campaign Coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee – Immigrants Rights Program. “At stake, if Governor Murphy does not sign is the potential building of new detention centers with hundreds of beds which mean hundreds of families facing the horrors of ICE detention.
“As a social worker, I am always struck by the resiliency that my client shows every single day. She is a mother, a father, and a fighter who has had her world turned upside down, and yet she has not let herself break down. As a daughter of immigrants, myself, I know the pain these families are going through, far too well. Hence why I have worked with my client to advocate for this bill throughout all this time. I strongly urge Governor Murphy to sign this bill into law right away,” said Gricelda Cortes-Gonzalez, social worker with American Friends Service Committee – Immigrant Rights Program (AFSC – IRP) ”
On a daily basis, we hear the stories of families separated by this inhumane system and the fear and insecurity that they face knowing what tomorrow holds from them. During the pandemic, we received calls about how unsafe these facilities are and no one should be living in those conditions. On communities, our Black and brown communities, are the ones targeted and harmed by these terrible systems,” said Jackie Zapata, Program Coordinator, First Friends NJ & NY. “New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation. We call on Governor Murphy to sign this legislation that would permanently be a solution to what we are seeing here in New Jersey.
“ICE detention simply doesn’t make sense,” Zapata stated. We receive dozens of calls every day from our friends who are just so confused about what tomorrow holds for them, friends that don’t understand their case, friends that don’t understand these prolonged detention periods. People are in detention fighting their immigration case. However, their odds of winning their case are significantly higher if they were on the outside. Some of our friends don’t have a criminal record and are held in detention, while some of our friends have already served a sentence, been released, thinking they are finally going home, and are transferred to ICE for an indefinite time, basically serving a second sentence. So we push our local and state to not be in the business of partnering with ICE and we call on Governor Murphy to sign this now. We don’t want any new contracts between now and when the bill is signed.”
Today, (Monday) we received dozens of calls from our friends inside, especially at Essex, who are scared because they don’t know where they may end up tomorrow, who are fearing for their life knowing that they might be transferred to far-away facilities where they are separated from their families, from support systems, from community organizations, and hotlines like ours at First Friends. We call on our Senators and representatives in Congress to take action now to stop these transfers of our friends,” Zapata urged.
Over the last years, localities and State legislators have been the target of grassroots calls to end the callous profiting from ICE detention contracts. As New Jersey leaders begin to respond to these calls, ICE has increasingly threatened and retaliated through transfers meant to deter the local efforts that erode the federal agency’s national capacity. Worryingly, New Jersey’s federal representatives have also remained quiet, despite their key role in pressing the Biden administration to do more to stop transfers. This week, ICE plans to transfer immigrants detained in Essex County Correctional Facility — an unnecessary and cruel decision since many immigrants currently held there qualify for release to their families and communities to defend their legal cases.
The call for Murphy’s signature and passage into law is urgent — ICE issued Requests for Information to explore agreements with the New Jersey and surrounding New York and Philadelphia field offices and, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic alone, ICE has signed multiple new agreements and renewals with jails across the East Coast.