Hudson County has become the latest New Jersey county to cut ties with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hudson County officially informed ICE that it would no longer house any detained immigrants on behalf of the agency as of Nov. 1, 2021, county spokesman James Kennelly said in an email Friday. The county officially informed ICE of its decision to stop housing detained immigrants on Friday.
In Hudson County, legislators and officials have publicly expressed this spring that they would also be open to getting out of their contract with ICE at the county correctional facility. But since then, the public has heard little from county officials about what they planned to do next.
Ending the housing of detained immigrants was “in line with the stated wishes of the County’s Board of Commissioners, expressed publicly earlier this year by the BOC’s chairman,” Kennelly said. ICE has 45 days to prepare for the remaining detained immigrants to be transferred, he said.
“I’m open minded to get out of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] contracts,” Anthony Vainieri Jr., the chair of the Hudson County Board of Commissioners, told Politico in April.
In the last several years, the issue has been fraught, with activists fighting for years to end the county’s contract. In 2018, Hudson County Freeholders approved a resolution to end the county’s contract to hold ICE detainees at the Hudson County Correctional Facility by December 2020. But in November of 2020, as the contract expired, they reversed course and the Hudson County board of commissioners voted to extend the contract with ICE for up to ten years. Still, the agreement between ICE and Hudson County requires only 30 days notice to end its contract with the agency, Kennelly said.
More than 600 detained immigrants were once housed at the Hudson County jail, Kennelly said — but now, that number stands at just over 40.
The vote was met with fierce anti-ICE activism, and county officials obtained a restraining order against activists who protested in front of the county executive’s home because of the vote.
In the meantime, the remaining ICE facilities in New Jersey continued to depopulate their jails, sometimes by transferring immigrants hundreds of miles away from their families and legal teams. In mid-August, there were 40 detained immigrants still held at the Hudson facility. At Bergen — where the contract has no expiration date, but the facility is not taking new arrivals — there were 27 detained immigrants. Immigrants have not been held at Essex County Correctional Facility as of August 17, after the county announced it was ending its contract with ICE this spring.
The Elizabeth Contract Detention facility remains an outlier, with 115 immigrants detained at the facility as of August 23. ICE recently extended its contract with the private company that runs the Elizabeth facility until August 31, 2023, while a bill that would ban new, renewed and extended ICE contracts in the state was awaiting Gov. Murphy’s signature.
Gov. Murphy later signed the bill into law in August, making New Jersey the first East Coast state to ban further ICE contracts.
ICE did not respond to specific questions about whether the county’s move to terminate the contract would lead to transfers, but said in a statement that “the health, welfare, and safety of non-citizens in ICE custody will continue to be one of the agency’s highest priorities.”
On Thursday, at a Hudson County Commissioners meeting, a substance abuse re-entry program, visited in Thursday’s agenda, was floated essentially as replacement to the ICE contract, according to an advocate who attended the meeting. County officials have said on several occasions, including in 2018, that they needed to find an alternate revenue source to make up for lost federal funds if the ICE contract were to end.
Thursday’s vote was about a state pilot program to provide substance abuse treatment as part of a larger re-entry program that helps commute sentences and prevents recidivism, said Amy Torres, the executive of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. Hudson County voted yes on the pilot on Thursday, so they will be receiving additional money from the state—money which can be used instead of the money they were receiving from the ICE contract.
“The brutality and rancor of Hudson County Commissioner’s 2020 contract renewal is still fresh on everyone’s mind. That’s why this announcement — which comes just days after the State banned new ICE detention deals — is such a major win for the immigrant justice movement,” Torres said. “The attention now turns to our Senators and Congressional leaders to push ICE for releases so that people currently detained can fight their cases from home and in the care of community.”
This article was updated to clarify details about Hudson County’s contract with ICE.