Hudson County officials will initiate a “Path to Exit” from its contract to hold in custody detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), County Executive Tom DeGise announced last week.
The plan will include the DeGise Administration sending a resolution to the Board of Chosen Freeholders for a vote sometime this week that would provide that the current agreement with ICE cannot go beyond the end of 2020 without freeholder consent.
The plan will also direct additional funds from the contract to be spent on services for ICE detainees during this transition period. Presently, free legal services are provided to all detainees for their civil detention cases. The county is also spending in excess of $5 million to build an entirely new infirmary complex at the Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center in Kearny, where federal immigration detainees have been held for over 20 years.
The amount and into what areas those dollars will go will be worked out in future meetings with the administration, members of the freeholder board and advocates for the detainees. A survey of detainees conducted by advocates may be authorized as part of the plan.
The announcement of this significant about-face in county policy comes after weeks of meetings by DeGise and his staff, members of the freeholder board, advocates for detainees and local, state and federal officials who could assist the county in making a successful transition.
“Just a month ago, I did not see a path that would allow us to move forward on a path to exit,” DeGise said. “I’m pleased that after what I have heard from state and federal leaders, I believe we have a consensus on how Hudson County can exit the contract in a responsible manner.”
Throughout August and into September, the DeGise met with individual freeholders and advocates for detainees to look at what kinds of additional services might be provided to detainees while in the facility. Freeholders also reportedly met individually in-person and by phone with advocates, sharing their concerns and seeking common ground for a plan that would address the issues raised by board members when they voted to renew the contract with ICE in July.
Freeholder Board Chairman Anthony Vainieri, who attended all of the discussions with county staff and the advocates, welcomed the “Path to Exit” plan.
“Over the last month, the county executive, my fellow freeholders, state and federal leaders and local advocates for detainees have worked constructively to make this exit plan possible, and I am proud of the work that has been done to arrive at this point,” Vainieri said. “I will urge my colleagues to support this plan because it represents a humane, reasonable approach.”
One of the most prominent elected officials critical of the county’s contract with ICE, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, welcomed DeGise’s announcement.
“With this action, the county executive and the freeholders have begun the work of dealing with this issue in keeping with our values while dealing with the difficult realities of governing at the local level, and I applaud that,” Bhalla said.
A copy of the resolution will be placed on the board’s meeting agenda and is now available tomorrow for public review. Other elements of the plan requiring a vote will go before the board as needed.