Hudson County’s Renewed Immigration Enforcement Sends Chilling Message

As jurisdictions turn their back on ICE’s program, Hudson County renews contract to enforce immigration law at jail, raising civil rights and public safety concerns

Jersey City, NJ – Advocates throughout the state and Hudson County residents condemned Hudson County's decision on Friday to renew the 287(g) program at its jail. The decision came after two meetings with immigrants’ rights advocates and a series of private meetings with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that administers 287(g) agreements.

"It's baffling and disconcerting that Hudson County officials have chosen to participate in ICE's enforcement and deportation machinery, which instills fear in immigrant communities and leads to the breakup of families," said Father Gene Squeo, former pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Jersey City and a lifetime Hudson County resident.

Although news reports suggested Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise was leaning in the direction of cancelling the contract with ICE, Hudson County renewed the contract to act as immigration agents in the Hudson County Correctional facility. In the Hudson County Correctional Facility, deputized facility officers function as mini-ICE representatives and are authorized to issue “immigration detainers,” documents that request immigrants be held and transferred into immigration custody. Hudson County Correctional Facility has had two previous 287(g) agreements. In fiscal year 2015, more than 300 immigration detainers were issued for Hudson County's immigration detainees, ten times more than any other law enforcement agency in New Jersey.

Advocates have criticized the lack of transparency throughout Hudson County’s process of renewing 287(g) and communications with ICE. Civil rights and immigrants’ rights groups also call on Hudson County to publish details on every arrest, detention and enforcement action taken under 287(g) for the public’s benefit.287(g), named after the provision in the 1986 Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) that allows law enforcement to carry out federal immigration functions, is a voluntary federal training program for local jurisdictions to assist in identifying, arresting and detaining undocumented or potentially deportable immigrants.

"At a time when immigrant leaders across the country are calling for a halt to ICE's massive deportation program, Hudson County is putting its official endorsement on our broken and inhumane immigration system,” said Ari Rosmarin, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “Hudson County's decision to renew a program that demonstrably goes against the spirit of civil rights directly insults the immigrants in Hudson County, who make up the largest immigrant population in our state.”

Agreements under 287(g) have led to civil rights abuses, most notoriously under Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose 287(g) agreement was terminated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after a federal investigation revealed racial profiling and discrimination.

"Hudson County, one of the most diverse places in all of the United States, has chosen to stand apart in our state by keeping this program in place,” said Johanna Calle, coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “Hudson County joins the ranks of counties like Maricopa County in Arizona, where discrimination and prejudice run rampant, by volunteering to act as immigration agents.

We know that community members with minor offenses, like 10-year-old DUIs, are being detained and held in immigration detention like the one in Hudson County. We condemn this initiative and urge the county leadership to rethink their decision."

In May, advocates filed a petition with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) to investigate inhumane conditions at Hudson County Correctional Facility, which has consistently failed to provide its immigration detainees with adequate medical care. Investigations by CRCL are on the way, the federal agency has said.

The number of jurisdictions across the country participating in 287(g) has dropped from 77 in 2009 to 32 in 2016, as law enforcement has become aware of public safety and civil rights concerns and abandoned the program.

Immigrants who live in Hudson County and are booked into the jail, regardless of their charges and convictions, will likely be funneled into immigration detention unit as a result of this agreement. In addition to participating in 287(g), Hudson County Correctional Facility also operates the immigration detention unit through an Intergovernmental Service Agreement, or "immigration detention contract." Hudson County Director of Corrections Tish Nalls-Castillo has indicated that Hudson County has no cap on the number of immigration detainees the jail can house. Hudson County receives money for every bed used for ICE detainees and the jail currently houses between 450 and 600 immigrants for immigration purposes.

"As a resident of Hudson County and an advocate for immigrant rights, I am extremely disappointed at the government of Hudson County," said Rosa Santana, a lifelong Hudson County resident who was born and raised in Jersey City. Her uncle and other family members were deported, leaving behind their minor children. Rosa visits detainees in Hudson County regularly to provide support, as many immigrants do not have easy access to legal counsel or family members.

“Hudson County is one of the most diverse counties in our beloved country,” Santana added. “With all of the issues our law enforcement professionals currently face, renewing 287(g) makes us all less safe by making diverse communities fearful of reporting crimes. The Hudson County executive, the freeholders and the director of corrections have unfortunately chosen not to protect immigrant families and not to protect the safety of all Hudson County residents."

A broad-based coalition of labor, civil rights, immigrants’ rights, legal, and faith-based groups joined together to oppose renewal of Hudson County’s 287(g) contract: 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 32BJ SEIU, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Casa Esperanza, Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen, Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton, Central Unitarian Church – Social Justice Committee, Centro Comunitario CEUS, Community of Friends in Action, Inc., El Centro Hispanoamericano, Faith in New Jersey, Filipino Immigrants and Workers Organizing Project, First Friends of New Jersey and New York, Grupo Cajola, Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast, Immigration Equality, Ironbound Community Corporation, Kids in Need of Defense, La Unidad Latina -- NJ/PA Region and Gamma Eta Chapter, Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Latino Action Network, Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry NJ, Make the Road New Jersey, Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought, Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, National Association of Social Workers – NJ Chapter, New Labor, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, New Jersey Clergy Coalition for Justice, New Jersey Communities United, New Jersey Forum for Human Rights, New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Jersey Working Families Alliance, NYU Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic* (*these views do not necessarily reflect the position of NYU Law School, which is listed for identification purposes only), Statewide Parent and Advocacy Network, Inc., Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, and Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resources Center.