Immigrants, Advocates Condemn Governor Murphy’s Delay on Banning New ICE Detention — ICE Extends its Contract With Private Jailer in Elizabeth
In a shareholder meeting, private prison corporation CoreCivic announced an extension of their ICE detention contract currently located at Elizabeth Detention Center. The deal was struck after the end of the second quarter, just days following S3361/A5207’s passage in the legislature.
Newark, NJ — Tuesday, August 17, 2021 — In response to a CoreCivic earning’s call last week, in which the extension of the private Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention agreement in Elizabeth was announced, immigrant justice community members, and advocates condemned the Murphy administration’s delay in signing S3361/A5207 into law, which would ban such renewals, extensions, or other new ICE agreements. Impacted residents and immigrants’ rights advocates expressed their outrage and called on the administration to prioritize signing the bill immediately.
“I was detained at EDC for five months and I am diabetic and they did not care about my medication and food. I was upset to hear about the extension because I was excited that people were working to end detention in NJ. I was also hoping that no more people will go through what I went through. EDC and immigration detention should end in NJ,” said Francisco, formerly detained at EDC, with American Friends Service Committee – Immigrant Rights Program.
For the last 7 weeks, the bill has been waiting for Governor Murphy’s signature since its passage in the legislature on June 24th. Advocates worry the delay signals an unwillingness of the Governor to stand up to ICE, which has retaliated against internal hunger strikes and local efforts to end immigration detention. In addition to this contract extension with CoreCivic, ICE has also reopened a private detention facility at a previously closed site in neighboring Pennsylvania — a worrying development as many of New Jersey’s own sites have cited financial incentives as part of their willingness to wind down or back out of their ICE agreements.
“CoreCivic is a private prison corporation with grave human rights abuses on its record, including New Jersey’s own Elizabeth Detention Center. It has no place in New Jersey. We call on Gov. Murphy to sign S3361/A5207 immediately, said Jason De Sousa, Make the Road New Jersey member from Elizabeth.
More alarmingly, this new extension happened at EDC, New Jersey’s only private ICE detention facility, known for a litany of grave abuses since the start of the contract nearly 30 years ago. In 1995, Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) faced uprisings and calls for release with hunger strikes from the men and women detained due to inhumane conditions, lack of accountability, and the unjust detention of immigrants. The abuses and lack of transparency include the unexplained death of Boubacar Bah in 2007, the first reported case of COVID19 reported in an ICE detention facility, and violations of CDC standards during the pandemic. In 1999, the FBI investigated the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) site (later rebranded as CoreCivic) for employee misconduct which included the beating of an immigrant detainee at the Elizabeth facility. More recently, a 2018 report revealed unhygienic and unsanitary conditions with a lack of potable water, safe food, and lack of air ventilation. Additionally, the study showed medical, dental, and mental health needs were consistently left unmet or exacerbated during detention in the facility. Last year, Hector García Mendoza was disappeared by ICE after he filed a class-action lawsuit for the release of all detained at the facility. Additionally, ICE continuously transfers individuals in its custody rather than use its discretion to release them to their families. Many of New Jersey’s top leadership have described the Elizabeth facility as the “worst of the worst” largely because it is run by a private for-profit, however, all ICE detention, private or public, is linked with human rights abuses, including the indefinite length of confinement which likens it to torture.
New Jersey is no stranger to detention center and prison abuse scandals for which correctional and local officials have evaded attempts at oversight and reform for decades. Recently, Carlos Sierra of NJAIJ member organization First Friends of New York and New Jersey outlined his support of this bill alongside Nafeesah Goldsmith of New Jersey Prison Justice Watch.
“This bill to me symbolizes what New Jersey should stand for and is a step forward to end our participation with an inhumane detention system that has caused harm to me and my family and made it extremely hard for me to fight my asylum case. I will never be able to see justice for what I was subjected to in detention, but this bill will bring some healing to me, my family, and New Jersey,” said Carlos Sierra with Friends Friends of NJ & NY, a political refugee from Cuba in 1989, formerly in ICE detention in Essex County Correctional Facility. Mr. Sierra is now enrolled in the Criminal Justice Program at the Bergen County Community College and the Aspiring Scholars and Professionals Program at Princeton University.
Advocates with the #FreeEDC campaign called out the lack of action from Governor Murphy and New Jersey leadership, calling for the bill to be signed into effect immediately.
“This ICE contract extension makes room for ICE and CoreCivic to continue their egregious misconduct with no accountability for even longer. Immigrants in this country are faced with the reality that those in power are comfortable with taking matters that impact their lives slowly and nonchalantly,” said Banan Abdelrahman with American Friends Service Committee – Immigrant Rights Program in Newark. “We call on Governor Murphy to sign S3361/A5207 immediately to prevent any more ICE detention space from being created in NJ.
Legislative champions and prime sponsors of the bill offered the following in support of Governor Murphy signing the legislation without delay.
“I hope Governor Murphy will sign S3361 as soon as possible. Hopefully, immigrant justice will not be further delayed,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg, prime sponsor of S3361 in the State Senate.
“The renewal of the lease between CoreCivic and ICE demonstrates how important A5207 is for our state,” said Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson, prime sponsor of A5207 in the Assembly. “I am hoping the Governor sees the need for this legislation and makes signing it a priority.”
Once signed into law, New Jersey would be the third state with bans on ICE renewals. Just last month, Illinois joined California in banning and ending all ICE agreements in the state. Washington state also bans private ICE detention agreements. The legislation comes as all three counties with ICE detention contracts in New Jersey have signaled their willingness to end their contracts with ICE, and as CoreCivic is being sued by its landlord Elberon to exist the lease with the private jailer.
Advocates and faith leaders from around the New Jersey and New York region joined the chorus of voices calling on Governor Murphy to sign the legislation without delay.
“ICE contracts in New Jersey have only served to bolster the detention system nationally. DIRE volunteers visited those held by ICE twice a week at the CoreCivic Elizabeth facility until visits were eliminated due to the COVID19 pandemic. We have seen the inhumane conditions up close in this detention jail,” said Ellen Whitt with D.I.R.E (Deportation & Immigration Response Equipo) Support Services. ICE uses the bed space at EDC as a hub for detaining immigrants from all across the US. Those held there include NJ residents and asylees picked up at area airports or transported from the border. We call on Governor Murphy to stop New Jersey from being used for ICE’s dirty work by immediately signing the anti-detention bill S3361/A5207 to prevent other future contracts with ICE.
“CoreCivic is a “for-profit” Company. The greater the number of those detained in their facility, the more money is made – an incentive to keep the beds filled. Why is Gov. Murphy supporting this by letting the legislation sit on his desk?,” said Sister Veronica Roche, Salvation and Social Justice, Immigrant Advocate, and Faith in New Jersey leader.
“New Jersey must cease its complicity in the horrific ICE detention system and join the national movement to shut all ICE detention centers. Incarceration of immigrants is contrary to human rights principles and to the professed values of all major faiths, said Jon Moscow, co-chair of Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition, composed of 10 cross-denominational faith-based organizations. We call on Governor Murphy to sign S3361/A5207 without further delay and on the governor and all NJ elected officials to speak out loudly and clearly for a humane immigration policy that strengthens families and communities. Simultaneously, the Biden Administration must match local and state actions by shutting down ICE detention at the national level.”
“For what is nearing two decades, our members have been inspired to join the struggle to end immigration detention by the story of a woman aptly named Mary who was living with her family in New Jersey when she was separated from them, including her breastfeeding infant, in an early morning ICE raid and thrown into the Elizabeth Detention Center,” said Kathy O’Leary with Pax Christi NJ. “We recall in her story the quiet strength of the Blessed Virgin who gave us the powerful words of the Magnificat, and who gives us the resolve to persevere in the face of suffering, as well as to reject the status quo for our children and for all God’s children. The suffering of our contemporary Mary reflects that of the story Holy Family. Her story and that of so many others who have passed through the Elizabeth Detention Center have been etched indelibly in our hearts.”
“The Elizabeth contract extension is emblematic of the inhumane and profit-driven immigration detention system that has only served to pad the pockets of private corporations at the expense and dehumanization of immigrants and communities of color,” said Tania Mattos, policy and northeast monitoring manager at Freedom for Immigrants. “Governor Murphy now has the opportunity to be on the right side of history and help dismantle this system of cruelty. But until the New Jersey Governor signs this bill into law, it’s clear he risks reversing the hard-fought progress of communities, advocates, and legislators with each passing day.”
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice is a statewide coalition of 45 faith, labor, policy, community-based, and grassroots organizations that fight for policies that empower and protect immigrant New Jerseyans