Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday signed into law a bill which bans new, renewed and extended agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants in New Jersey. Under the new law, state and local entities — as well as private facilities — are prohibited from entering into or renewing contracts with ICE. The legislation, bill 5207/S-3361, passed the state assembly in late June, and has been awaiting Gov. Murphy’s signature ever since.
New Jersey has become the first east coast state to ban future contracts with ICE, as well as renewals or expansions of current contracts — and is now the fourth state nationwide to limit or ban ICE detention.
Activists embraced the news as a historic win for the movement to end immigration detention. Local advocates had been battling for the bill to be introduced to the legislature since last fall, when ICE approached New Jersey and New York and issued a Request for Information looking to expand detention capacity in the region.
“Freedom for Immigrants applauds Governor Murphy and the Legislature for taking historic action to end New Jersey’s complicity in the dehumanizing immigration detention system,” Tania Mattos, the policy and northeast monitoring manager with Freedom for Immigrants, said in a statement. “This hard-fought victory reflects the resilience and tenacity of our communities – and reaffirms that our vision of a world without detention is within reach.”
Since the bill passed the legislature on June 24, activists have focused their efforts on pressuring Gov. Murphy to sign it into law as soon as possible to avoid any sort of expansion of current ICE agreements.
Still, critics of the bill say that banning detention in the area will just lead to immigrants being transferred to detention facilities hundreds of miles away from families and legal representation — a process which the New Jersey State Bar claimed was increasing because of the bill, northjersey.com reported.
But many local activists who support the bill have pressed for the release of immigrants, instead of transfers to far-away states. In late July, dozens of activists blocked entrances to a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) field office, the investigative arm of DHS, in Newark on Tuesday to protest the transfers and deportations of detained immigrants in New Jersey.
A facility shutting its doors to ICE does not necessarily have to lead to transfers, advocates argue. The agency currently monitors nearly 12,000 people in the Newark and New York area by telephone, GPS monitoring devices or a smartphone app.
The law does not alter existing contracts at the Hudson and Bergen County Jails, or at the Elizabeth Detention Center. The Essex County Correctional Facility held 13 detained immigrants last week — but housed zero immigrants as of Tuesday afternoon, county Executive Joseph N. DiVicenzo Jr. said in a statement. Essex earlier this year had announced it would be ending its contract with ICE.
In Hudson County, the board of county commissioners last year voted to extend the contract with ICE for up to ten years — though legislators and officials have recently publicly expressed that they would also be open to getting out of their contract with ICE at the county correctional facility. At the Bergen County Jail, the county’s contract with ICE has no expiration date, but a spokeswoman said that the jail is not taking new detained immigrants.
The ICE-ERO Newark office declined to comment on the new law.
ICE recently extended its contract with the private company that runs the Elizabeth Detention Center until August 31, 2023, while the bill was awaiting Gov. Murphy’s signature. After the extension of the contract, advocates and local leaders again this week expressed serious concerns about what they saw as the Governor’s delay to sign the bill.