Despite the regional pull back from immigration detention, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has extended its contract with the private company that runs the Elizabeth Contract Detention Center in New Jersey until August 31, 2023, the ICE-ERO Newark office confirmed.
In an earnings call on Tuesday, CoreCivic President and Chief Executive Officer, Damon T. Hininger, said that the company had recently entered into a new two-year contract extension with ICE. The company runs the facility in Elizabeth, which currently houses 115 detained immigrants. The extension happened “shortly after” the company’s second quarter ended, Hininger said, which finished on June 30, according to financial documents from the company.
CoreCivic is currently locked in a legal battle with Portview Properties, an affiliate of the Elberon Development Group, a corporation that owns the building Elizabeth Detention Center is housed in. The company claimed that CoreCivic breached its contract because it was not in accordance with basic COVID safety guidelines. As of April 29, 2021, the lawsuit says, 51 immigrants at Elizabeth have tested positive for COVID-19.
CoreCivic does not comment on pending litigation, said Ryan Gustin, a spokesman for the company. “What I can tell you,” he added, “is we take very seriously our responsibility to care for the individuals in our facilities, including the Elizabeth Detention Center, and we work hard to ensure those entrusted to our care are treated respectfully and humanely. The safety and well-being of these individuals and our staff is our top priority.”
The number of detained immigrants at Elizabeth, a facility with a 300 bed capacity, by far surpasses that of the other three detention facilities in the state. There are currently 115 detained immigrants at Elizabeth, the ICE-ERO Newark office said. But population numbers at each of the three other detention facilities have been waning amidst the push from advocates and local leaders to dislodge ICE detention from New Jersey.
In recent months, local officials in New Jersey have been distancing themselves from ICE. In late April, Essex County announced that it would be ending its contract with ICE, and all detained immigrants are scheduled to be moved from the Essex County Jail by August 23rd. In Bergen, the county’s current contract with ICE at the county jail does not have an expiration date, but the facility is not taking new detained immigrants. In Hudson County, legislators and officials have publicly expressed that they would also be open to getting out of their contract with ICE at the county correctional facility.
At Hudson, there are now 40 detained immigrants. At Bergen, there are 27. And at Essex, only 13 detained immigrants remain. By contrast, at the end of June, there were 76 detained immigrants held at Essex and 38 at Bergen.
The extension was CoreCivic’s first contract extension or renewal with ICE in 2021, Hininger said. “This facility is particularly critical for ICE due to recent losses of most of its detention capacity in the region,” he said on the call. “The Elizabeth Detention Center has successfully served ICE for multiple decades and we are pleased to continue to provide that service into the future.”
The news of the contract extension between ICE and CoreCivic came as an unwelcome shock to many activists who have been at the forefront of putting pressure on New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to sign a bill which would ban new, renewed and expanded ICE detention agreements in the state.
The bill has been sitting on the governor’s desk since late June, when it passed both branches of the state legislature. Governor Murphy’s office told Documented it did not want to comment on pending legislation.
Some advocates noted that the contract extension between ICE and CoreCivic created more urgency for Gov. Murphy to sign the bill as soon as possible. Chia-Chia Wang, the organizing and advocacy director of the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program, told Documented that the contract extension was “disturbing” and would “further subject immigrant detainees to inhumane conditions.”
“Governor Murphy should immediately sign the anti-detention bill and put a stop to unnecessary and degrading immigration detention in NJ,” Wang said.
While advocates and immigrants may be hopeful about Elberon’s pending lawsuit to break its lease, it is unknown whether CoreCivic could move the agreement with ICE to another facility, noted Amy Torres, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
“The fact that these agreements can happen so quickly and so quietly is all the more reason for this bill to become law,” Torres said.