Detained immigrants in New Jersey have not had it easy. Over the years, the usual practice of New Jersey officials has been to arrest and detain unlawful immigrants in county jails in keeping to the contract between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local jails. The practice of detaining immigrants in county jails pending their deportation proceedings has been there for a while.
Over the years, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) has contracted the New Jersey county jails as detention houses for immigrants. However, in August 2021, the New Jersey Senate came up with a bill prohibiting county jails from signing new contracts with ICE as detention places for federal immigrants. This bill was to come into effect once Gov. Phil Murphy appended his signature.
The voting pattern for the bill was a clear indication that it received wide approval from the majority of the senate members. With a 25-15 vote, the bill received approval from the senate. Voting on the same account, the state Assembly passed the bill with a 46-26 vote.
There has been a series of protests over the years by detainees and other concerned individuals and corporate bodies to end the cooperation between local county jails and ICE. Fuelling this protest was that all detainees, notwithstanding their offense, were given the same treatment at the county jails. Additionally, this cooperation between ICE and county jails has become a money-making venture, with little or no attention given to the welfare of the detainees.
With the signing of the bill by Gov. Murphy, the contract between ICE and New Jersey officials has come to an abrupt end. Though the bill prohibits local jails from renewing detention agreements with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, it says nothing about the state of current contracts that are still running.
Local jails have started announcing their unwillingness to detain more immigrants in compliance with the law. However, the ICE has begun initiating the transfer of detained immigrants from New Jersey to other parts of the country. While this move may seem reasonable, it will also take detainees far from their families and loved ones.
With the latest development, attorneys of different detainees held in local jails without trial have contacted ICE to release their clients on bail. However, ICE has been uncompromising in keeping these immigrants in detention as the agency considered some of them a threat to public safety.
The case of Anthony, an ICE detainee, stands out among so many others as he awaits trial for possession of drugs. Anthony’s lawyer requested his release on bail pending when his case went to court. However, the release request was denied because the detainee’s release, according to ICE, would pose a threat to public safety.
Many concerned persons have raised the alarm on the implications of the imminent transfer of detainees, especially those with pending criminal cases, to ICE holding facilities located in other states. The transfer could mean limited access to legal counsel for the detained immigrants. While most attorneys could continue representing their clients, many detention facilities do not make provisions for video appearances.
Before initiating the transfer of the detainees to detention facilities in other states, ICE had given a ten-day window for attorneys to send release requests for the 43 detainees in its custody. According to an ICE spokesperson, the agency received a total of 28 release requests. The agency released nine detainees, deported five, and transferred 29 to another detention facility.
While attorneys have appealed to ICE to exercise discretion before denying release requests, the agency has reinstated its commitment to ensuring that detainee’s transportation is done safely and humanely with the entire process supervised by experienced officials. Notwithstanding the transfer of detainees, lawyers of detainees can still send in release requests even after the agency has effected the transfer.
Immigrants facing deportation may benefit from talking with a lawyer. The sooner you contact a deportation lawyer, the sooner they can start building your defenses and protecting your rights.
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