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Biden Admin. Wants To Keep Elizabeth Detention Center Open as ICE Jail

Fisayo Okare

Jul 19, 2023

While advocates pressure Gov. Murphy to end new ICE detention contracts, CoreCivic extended its contract until 2023

A detention center in Elizabeth, N.J.

There’s a little over a month left until ICE’s contract with the private prison corporation CoreCivic in New Jersey expires — which will lead to the closure of the Elizabeth Detention Center, the final detention center operating in New Jersey. But on Monday, the Biden administration, via the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, notified a district judge of its intention to file a statement of interest, also known as an amicus brief, in the case. 

By noon today, July 19, DOJ lawyers will file the brief indicating the Biden administration’s interest in CoreCivic’s attempt to keep the detention facility open. 

Also Read: There Are No Immigrants Left in New Jersey County Jails. Where is ICE Sending Them?

Fifty advocacy groups and organizations including Make The Road, Families for Freedom, Pax Christi, Detention Watch Network, and others have signed on to a letter urging New Jersey Gov.Phil Murphy and elected officials to “rebuke” Biden administration’s intention to overturn the state’s plans to end private immigrant detention centers.

The DOJ’s move is similar to an attempt the Biden administration made two years ago to block a California law banning ICE from contracting with private companies to operate immigrant detention centers

Advocates in the letter Documented received from Detention Watch Network called the Biden administration’s “decision to side” with CoreCivic “bitterly disappointing but unsurprising.” The groups added that they will continue to pressure the government to “ensure that the Elizabeth Detention Center is closed permanently, that all people are freed, and that the building is never used to warehouse people for any purpose again.”

If the amicus brief is filed, the defendants in the case, representing Gov. Phil Murphy and others, are expected to respond to the federal government by next week; the court will hold an in-person hearing concerning the case on August 14.

New Jersey has been in line to end ICE detention across the state after Gov. Murphy signed a law banning the centers two years ago, following California, Washington, Illinois, and Maryland. 

Elizabeth Detention Center, a converted warehouse with a long history of documented abuse, is expected to have its contract with ICE expire on August 31, 2023 — if all still goes in favor of the New Jersey government in court. 

The death of an immigrant who died in a Louisiana facility in June has sparked a vigil in memory of those who have died while in ICE custody which will take place on Sunday July 23, and a protest on July 24 to shutdown Elizabeth Detention Center organized by Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition, Detention Watch Network and other advocacy groups. The protest would focus on the Biden administration’s decision to file the amicus brief and advocates will be demanding for elected officials to defend NJ’s law and call for Elizabeth Detention Center to be shut down.

Also Read: CoreCivic Sues New Jersey Governor Over Law Banning ICE Contracts

There are 149 ICE detainees at the Elizabeth Detention Center, according to ICE detention statistics as of June 12, 2023. The majority — 116 — of those people held have no criminal records. 

Update: The Biden administration has filed the statement of interest today, July 19, in support of ICE’s arguments about the need to maintain the Elizabeth Detention Center contract with CoreCivic.

Monica S. Burke, Acting Assistant Director of ICE ERO, Custody Management Division, makes statements in the case about the necessity of maintaining the contract. One of which says “ICE fully intends to extend CoreCivic’s contract before its current contract expires on August 31, 2023. And the agency is currently on track to do so.” The contract will be extended for “for an additional 12 months.”

She added that “in order to properly execute this contract extension, ICE is required to complete several steps, some of which have already been completed.” This indicates that ICE and CoreCivic are on track to fully executing the contract.

Fisayo Okare

Fisayo writes Documented’s "Early Arrival" newsletter and "Our City" column. She is an MSc. graduate of Columbia Journalism School, New York, and earned her BSc. degree in Mass Comm. from Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos.

@fisvyo

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