Bergen County Sheriff and Freeholders: Stop Housing ICE Detainees

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Six or eight paragraphs could be used here, just to describe the tip of the iceberg as to why our nation's immigration policies are broken, but most of us have a general idea of what facets of it need to updated, improved, enforced, or no longer enforced.

Phasing out Bergen County Sheriff’s contract with ICE to detain immigrants at the Bergen County Jail helps our county, and will be a net positive for our state.

New Jersey's counties need to work toward putting an end to enabling the immoral and often illegal actions of the current administration's policies which deal with migrants and asylum seekers at all of our ports of entries and border crossings. 

Late in 2018, Hudson County Freeholders voted to allow their current ICE contract, which currently imprisons about 650 immigration detainees, to expire in 2020.Many advocacy groups -- including the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, have long been in favor of ending the contract to house detainees in Hudson County. 

At the time, Hudson County Freeholder Bill O'Dea was one of the voices against continuing the practice, telling the Star Ledger, "Whatever anyone says about not closing the facility, their first motivation is the money," O'Dea said.

The current Bergen County contract brings in what eventually becomes significant operating revenue, helping to balance budgets by separating families and detaining approximately 500 immigrants in inhumane conditions. Recently, an incumbent Bergen County Freeholder's response to a related inquiry was, "...the County Administration, has stated several times on the record at our public meetings that Bergen County is not a for-profit entity."

Those who state that the Bergen County Jail is "profiting" off if these agreements with ICE & US Marshals are not meant to be taken literally, so please allow for a clarification: There is a strong belief that the moneys received by Bergen County on a monthly and annual basis is significantly more than the cost to house and care for the detainees. Any excess funds provided to the county for the care of detainees must only be used for the purpose which BC contracted for. Bergen County's County Executive and Sheriff have provided no documentation to demonstrate the contrary, but are encouraged to provide the costs of providing the current sub-par care.

Bergen's contract appears to call for $110 per day per detainee to go to the county, but during 2019 we have seen that these immigrants are often not being provided with a clean, healthy, and livable conditions.  According to WNYC, the county is on pace to collect about $15 million this year toward the Sheriff's department's $80 million annual budget.  Saying that they are not in the detainee business for financial reasons would be disingenuous at the least.I

In the last year, we have seen a teenage mother separated from her 2-year-old child as soon as she turned eighteen, we have seen detainees not be allowed to "hug" their family visitors, and at one point disallowed visitation privileges. This past summer, the air conditioning was out for significant periods of time. With one part-time doctor, who is apparently not fluent in Spanish, the only provider of medical care at the Jail, we also saw an outbreak of mumps and subsequent quarantine of the Bergen facility. Other counties housing immigration detainees saw similar mumps outbreaks. 

Detainees are not being provided sufficient time with their attorneys, or sufficient exercise and sunshine time, as well as poor food and nutrition options. If detainees are being held for more than 30 days, for whatever reason, they should be provided with ESL classes as needed, as well as group therapy sessions to deal with the anxiety and depression which would be expected in such cases.

Responses from county officials in the last year or so, including from previous Sheriff Michael Saudino, stated that the detainees would receive better care at Bergen County Jail than elsewhere in the region. While many advocates agree that his statement is likely accurate, they feel that it is still not a sufficient reason to encourage the disgraceful policies of the current administration by accepting their money and making it easier for them to achieve their goals. It is not a reason to profit off of policies which most citizens in New Jersey disagree with.

The detention of immigrants who are not being held on criminal charges, is a clear violation of the Bill of Rights' guarantee that no one is to be deprived of liberty without a criminal charge. The detention of detainees who came to this country with valid claims of political asylum which should have been handled as such, are also criminal and immoral.

The ICE deportation and detention system can only continue to function with the cooperation of state and local authorities. The fewer places available for ICE to hold detainees, the fewer detainees will be held, the more difficult to continue these policies.

Also feel free to contact Bergen County elected leaders to provide your feedback:

County Executive James Tedesco: countyexecutive@co.bergen.nj.us (201)336-7300

Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton
2 Bergen County Plaza
Hackensack, New Jersey 07601   Phone: 201-336-3500

Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders
One Bergen County Plaza  • 5th Floor • Hackensack, NJ 07601-7076
Ph: 201-336-6526

Click here for BC Freeholders' e-mail addresses

We believe the phase-out of Bergen County's contract with ICE needs to commence immediately and with care:

  • work in collaboration with community advocates for immigrants to prepare for their relocation.
  • develop a phase-out strategy that allows detainees the opportunity to see their legal counsel and families, while improving their living conditions.
  • perform physical, dental, and mental wellness checks on the detainees monthly, for those detainees being held for more than 30 days.

Thank you for considering signing this petition, and/or looking further into this important issue.

 



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