NJ Immigrant Families, Advocates Celebrate A5207/S3361 Passage in Senate, Call for Anti-Detention Bill to Become Law During Immigrant Heritage Month
Following A5207’s passage in the Assembly on Monday, S3361 passed the full Senate Thursday afternoon. Families and advocates urge Governor Murphy to meet the Legislature’s pace and sign the bill this month.
Newark, NJ –Thursday, June 24th, 2021–The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ) and member organizations celebrate the historic passage of S3361/A5207 which bans future, renewed, and expanded ICE detention agreements in New Jersey. If signed into law, New Jersey would lead the East Coast as the first state prohibiting new, renewal or expansion of ICE detention contracts, joining California, Illinois, and Washington state who also limit or ban ICE detention agreements.
As recently as last October, ICE solicited interest from entities in New Jersey and New York to greatly expand detention capacity in the region, with the proposed creation of 900-1800 new beds. A similar request was issued in the Philadelphia field office, potentially affecting South Jersey. In response, NJAIJ, a state-wide coalition of 45 faith, labor, policy, community-based, and grassroots organizations, has fought for S3361/A5207 as part of their “Fair & Welcoming” Platform.
”The legislature’s swift passage of the anti-detention bill this week demands urgency from the Governor’s office to sign it into law. This law would position New Jersey as a national leader, joining only three other states who have turned their back on ICE’s cruelty-for-profit agreements. The statewide ban would confirm the message that continues to be raised at the local level: profiting off of pain and family separation contradicts New Jersey values,” said Amy Torres, Executive Director at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “Most importantly, banning future ICE detention grants advocates and attorneys the necessary breathing room to fight for releases and put an end to our state’s existing agreements without the threat of a new contract burying our efforts. New Jersey has a responsibility, not just to stand up for immigrant communities who call our state home, but to lead in condemning ICE’s national regime of terror, separation, and abuse.”
Families are calling on the Governor to sign the law this month, in recognition of his recent declaration of June as Immigrant Heritage Month. Community members say that protecting families from the fear and threat of future detention or deportation is as important as celebrating the state’s immigrant heritage past.
“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. 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.
“I am a law student, a staff at an immigrants rights organization, and a political refugee. My family was murdered and I came to New Jersey with my mom. It’s where I grew up. I have a US citizen wife. My son is a US citizen. New Jersey should stand for legislation like this, it’s a step toward ending this harmful system that hurts people and families like mine. It’s a system that has hurt me personally,” said Carlos Sierra, from First Friends of New York and New Jersey. “I spent two years in immigration detention. It’s not just me who suffered, my family suffered too. I’m living proof of the suffering, isolation, and deprivation that happens because of detention. I was denied proper care and accommodation of my religious beliefs. I was denied time to prepare for my case and had to represent myself. New Jersey profited off of the suffering of me and my family. We must stop this. I want you to know, my wife and my son, the only way for them to heal is through this bill becoming law.”
NJAIJ member organizations, which include legal services providers who counsel on detention and deportation defense, have long raised the alarm that new ICE contracts would overwhelm the existing capacity of organizations who fight for immigrants to be released. Hunger strikes, vigils, and release campaigns have heightened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, as far too many immigrants in New Jersey detention were subject to infection, permanent injury, and even death:
“We applaud the legislature for recognizing what we’ve known all along – that there are tremendous human costs and incalculable harms brought about by detention. The Governor must act now to prevent any future deals with ICE that would continue to separate families and cause lasting trauma in our communities. This is a huge and important step but we will continue to fight until everyone is released and safe at home again,” said Lauren Herman, Supervising Attorney, Make the Road New Jersey.
Despite vaccination rates increasing with the general public, COVID-19 infection and spread continue unabated in ICE detention centers across the nation. New agreements in New Jersey, and continued transfers across the nation, further subject immigrant families and local communities to harm:
“Our lawmakers acknowledge with this vote that we cannot continue to subject New Jerseyans to the indignities and civil rights violations that are an inherent part of immigration detention, and we cannot continue to enable the separation of families from their loved ones,” said ACLU-NJ Campaign Strategist Ami Kachalia. “We urge Governor Murphy to sign this legislation as quickly as possible, to ensure that New Jersey can keep families together and treat all people with dignity.”
“This is the fruit of faithful and continuous effort by immigrants and advocates. It’s what helps to make New Jersey a welcoming state,”said Sr. Veronica Roche, SSJ, Immigrant Advocate, member of Faith in New Jersey.
“Today’s vote brings New Jersey one step closer to truly being a fair and welcoming state for all,” said Vineeta Kapahi, Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “Immigration detention is unjust and does irreparable harm to our families and communities — it’s about time state lawmakers ended this inhumane practice. We thank the Legislature for limiting ICE’s presence in New Jersey and urge the Governor to quickly sign this bill into law.
“It is most gratifying to see that the Senate has joined the Assembly in passing this bill. If signed by the Governor, New Jersey will be a safer home for immigrants, with less family separation. Further, our county and state governments will reflect the greater support for our undocumented neighbors that the majority of New Jersey citizens already feel. This is a good day for New Jersey,” said Ted Fetter, chair of the Immigration Justice Task Force of Unitarian Universalist FaithAction New Jersey.
NJAIJ proudly stands with our members and legislative champions to urge the Governor to sign the ban on future business with ICE into law and continue the fight for community release.