A contract between CoreCivic and ICE would “immediately” be renewed or extended if a Judge grants a preliminary injunction over a New Jersey law banning new immigration detention contracts in the state, an attorney representing CoreCivic told a U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey on Monday.
The injunction would allow CoreCivic, a private prison operator running the last remaining immigration detention center in New Jersey, and ICE, to find an agreement to keep the facility open, said Bradley Simon, a CoreCivic attorney. CoreCivic would face “irreparable injury” if they were not able to enter into a new contract with ICE, Simon told Judge Robert Kirsch on Monday.
The current contract between CoreCivic and Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Elizabeth Contract Detention Center expires on August 31st. But CoreCivic, with an added statement of interest from the United States, filed a lawsuit earlier this year against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in an effort to keep the facility open. The state legislation enacted in 2021, S3361/A5207, would bar CoreCivic and ICE from renewing their contracts, and the facility would have to shut down.
In court on Monday, the U.S. and CoreCivic claimed at a hearing in the case that the law was unconstitutional, and preempted by federal law. The state of New Jersey can choose not to house their own state detainees, said Stephen Ehrlich, who appeared on behalf of the United States. “But they can’t dictate that choice for the United States,” he said. “This would have far reaching consequences.”
The State of New Jersey pushed back, and Jeremy Feigenbaum of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said the law in no way “discriminated” against the federal government, and that the legislation would simply put Congress in the “driver’s seat” to face any problems that could result on the ground.
At the hearing, Judge Kirsch questioned what the ripple effects of the New Jersey legislation would be across the country. If other states began to adopt similar laws, where he asked, would the tens of thousands of detained immigrants be held?
“What would happen if I embrace your view?” Judge Kirsch asked Feigenbaum. “I view it as catastrophic.”
Judge Kirsch also told Feigenbaum that the state of New Jersey’s briefing submitted to the court was “scant” in evidence for what the state argued was a lack of health and safety standards at the facility. The fact that two people died at the facility over several decades, which the state of New Jersey cited in briefs, was “not remarkable to the court,” Kirsch said.
On the steps of the courthouse, immigrant advocates gathered before and after the hearing to demand the closure of the Elizabeth facility. They criticized the Judge’s comments about the arguments regarding the conditions and deaths at the detention center.
“It is very hurtful to hear the ways in which immigrants’ lives are dehumanized,” Amy Torres, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, told Documented after the hearing. “It bears repeating that people shouldn’t have to die just for these centers to get shut down.”
Judge Kirsch will issue a written decision on the case before August 31, and will only be related to the legislation’s bearing on immigration detention contracts with private contractors, he said at the hearing.
“Now we’re just in a waiting period,” Torres said. “But that is not stopping this movement from continuing to mobilize and organize against the Elizabeth Detention Center.”