Bergen County will no longer house detained immigrants at the county jail, county officials said in statements released Wednesday. Three counties in New Jersey had held immigrants in their county jails, but Bergen is now the last county to announce it will halt this practice. Hudson County recently said no detained immigrants would be housed at its county correctional facility as of Nov. 1, and Essex County no longer has any detained immigrants in its jail as of late August.
Bergen County will instead enter a new shared service contract with the U.S. Marshals Service. Under the terms of the new contract, County Sheriff Anthony Cureton said in a statement, the jail will only house federal inmates who are awaiting trial or federal prisoners already sentenced, but awaiting placement into a Bureau of Prisons facility. The new contract, he said, will no longer include a clause that allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “piggyback” on the Marshal’s Service contract.
“Having seen federal enforcement priorities change and large fluctuations in the number of detainees at the jail, it is no longer in the county’s best interest to continue housing ICE detainees,” Sheriff Cureton said.
The Board of County Commissioners said that they agreed with the Sheriff’s assessment “that it is no longer prudent to maintain separate areas at the facility for inmates and immigration detainees, regardless of changes in population.”
“Moving forward, the Bergen County Jail will operate more efficiently and in line with its designed use,” the board said in a statement.
Federal authorities will have 45 days to move all detained immigrants from the Bergen facility, Keisha McLean, a spokeswoman for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed. A spokeswoman for ICE declined to comment on Wednesday.
Bergen currently houses about 20 immigrants, according to advocates who are now concerned that individuals could be transferred hundreds of miles away from their families and legal teams, instead of released from the facility. Recently, advocates have filed civil rights complaints condemning the conditions at the facility and treatment of immigrants at the jail, and have demanded that immigrants be released.
Though activists have been constantly fighting for New Jersey to ban all immigration detention in the state, ICE has in turn been transferring dozens of detained immigrants to detention facilities across the country. Most recently, advocates were told that many immigrants held at the Hudson Correctional facility, which just last month said it would no longer hold immigrants at its jail, would be transferred to the Orange County Correctional facility in New York, more than 60 miles away from Hudson.
Jean Ismael Bien Aime Nicolas, an immigrant who is currently detained at the Bergen County Jail, said in a statement through an advocate that detained immigrants at the Bergen County Jail “are in constant fear of being transferred after witnessing other immigrant detainees transferred out of Essex County Jail.”
One private immigration detention facility still remains in the state: the Elizabeth Contract Detention Center, which recently extended its contract until August 2023, and housed 115 detained immigrants as of late August. But CoreCivic, the company that contracts with ICE at the facility, is currently locked in a legal battle with a corporation that owns the Elizabeth Detention Center building, which has sued to break the lease.
At Bergen, the County Sheriff acknowledged he has heard from advocates and attorneys who made “persuasive arguments” to maintain the terms of the contract so that detained immigrants could stay close to their families and legal representation, without being transferred. “However, after consulting with the County Executive and Board of Commissioners, I believe that this is the right way to move forward,” Sheriff Cureton said.