(AFSC Immigrant Rights Program is a member of the NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees)

Essex County contract with ICE:  a flawed deal

On October 1, a 5-year contract Essex County signed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went into effect.  [September 22 Star -Ledger article As debate sharpens, Newark's Delaney Hall readies for immigrant detainees] We, the NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees (NJAID), a statewide coalition of immigrants rights groups, have serious questions about the contract, its bidding process and conditions at Essex County correction facilities.

According to County Executive Joseph DeVincenzo and the Chosen Freeholders, the contract is expected to generate huge revenue.   Assertions that this contract will create a windfall for Essex County are flawed.  The $50 million per year the County Executive claims Essex will receive is based on gross revenue; the amount calculated using a scenario of all beds being filled at all times at the full reimbursement rate.  Freeholders have said that there are no additional training costs or legal costs with the ICE contract.

The largest factor which would limit any financial gain for the county is the reliance on a subcontractor.   One third of the immigrant detainees are expected to be held in Delaney Hall, a facility that is owned by a subsidiary of GEO Group, a for-profit prison company. It is leased and operated by its non-profit division, the politically connected Community Education Centers (CEC). Of the $108 per day that Essex will receive from ICE, $78 per day will be paid directly to the private company, a corporation with a checkered history.

Though the County has yet to receive any of this forecast revenue, the County Executive has already begun to spend the money.  As questions about the public bidding process for the multi-million dollar subcontractor contract surfaced in the press, he unilaterally created a new county position called Director of ICE Programs. He awarded the job, with a $30,000 annual salary, to his chief of staff, Phillip Alagia.

Beyond the financial impact of this contract, serious questions have been raised regarding detention conditions at the Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF.) Essex County Freeholders are responsible for ensuring safe and humane conditions at the jail, for detainees and their visitors.  Documented charges including human rights and civil rights violations and violations of New Jersey laws have been presented to the Freeholders on several occasions. These charges include:

  • Violations of the Department of Homeland Security Detention Standards which guarantee attorneys and other legal representatives’ visits with detainees.  ECCF has repeatedly refused entry to authorized attorneys and representatives. The most recent complaint was filed by an attorney in September 2011.
  • The jail has limited access for forensic medical professionals who provide evaluations to support asylum applications and other court relief.   This complaint was filed in June 2010 by Physicians for Human Rights.

Assertions that detaining immigrants protects our national security interests are false. The people detained in these facilities are held because of immigration violations alone, and are often facing permanent separation from their families and communities.  They may be asylum seekers fleeing torture and persecution in their home countries, long-time residents of the US, or people hoping to obtain lawful immigration status. 

NJAID members fear the expansion of jail beds under the new contract will result in increased violations. This contract exacerbates an inhumane system plagued by a lack of oversight; one that tears apart families and wastes tax dollars. We believe Essex County should not become part of an abusive system that violates basic human rights. 

We embrace Freeholder Ralph Caputo’s suggestion that advocates and the community have input in the county’s oversight of the facilities. We propose that a “citizen and expert oversight committee” be established.  Such a committee will increase accountability and transparency, resulting in safer conditions and improved public awareness of detention issues.

Essex County officials should not use the incarceration of our neighbors for profit.

(signed)

Amy Gottlieb, American Friends Service Committee, 89 Market Street, Newark  973-643-1924

Cynthia Mellon, Newark 862-755-9577

Joseph Thomas-Berger, 67 Church Street, Montclair  973-678-8204

(Members of NJAID)