ICE detention program stirs controversy



The mayors of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Newark, Jersey City and Union City, among others, have pledged to be “sanctuary cities.”

But don’t expect Mayor Alberto Santos of Kearny to follow their lead.

Santos, who is also clerk to the Hudson County Board of Freeholders, noted that Hudson has voluntarily signed on – once again – to partner with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the enforcement of its 287(g) program.

Records show that Hudson has been a willing participant since June 2013, according to Santos.

Under this section of the federal Immigration Nationality Act, Santos said, localities – with access to DHS computer bases – identify, arrest and detain undocumented immigrants, many of whom would be deportable.

The way it works here, Santos added, is that the DHS trains and deputizes Hudson County corrections officers to implement this policy.

So if someone who meets the federal criteria under 287(g) commits a crime for which they are arrested, they are held at the Hudson County Jail in south Kearny as federal detainees – not eligible for bail – and if they are deemed a national security threat, they are subject to deportation by DHS to their native countries, Santos said.

To facilitate the immigrants’ detention, Santos said, the DHS rents space at the county jail where, he added, there are between 400 to 600 detainees on the average on any given day of whom some are transfers from Bergen County.

The 2016 Hudson County budget shows that Hudson anticipated collecting a total of $21,279,500 for “maintenance of federal & ICE (U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement) inmates in county institutions.”

Of the several hundred detainees lodged in the jail, during a recent 16-month period, 64 have been “flagged” as meeting the 287(g) eligibility standards as defined by DHS, according to Hudson County government spokesman James Kennelly.

Such criteria, he said, include individuals with a “significant history of harm to the community,” including convictions for domestic abuse, repeated substance abuse, criminal violence and multiple offenses of the like.

Of those 64 cases, Kennelly said, “16 have been deported,” which he characterized as “only a tiny fraction” of the overall number of immigrant detainees, “so it’s a very targeted program.” And, by getting criminal immigrants off the streets – and possibly out of the U.S. – “we’re keeping them from preying on locals,” he added.

In New Jersey, aside from Hudson, only the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office has opted into 287(g) while Salem County has applied for admission, according to ICE’s website, and law enforcement officers in 15 other states have followed suit.

“From January 2006 through Sept. 30, 2015, the 287(g) program is credited with identifying 402,079 potentially removable aliens – mostly at local jails,” reported ICE. How many have been deported ICE doesn’t say.

But immigrant advocacy groups take issue with the claims made by ICE and Hudson County.

Ari Rosmarin, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties of New Jersey, said his organization, which partners with the immigrant rights movement, is “extremely disappointed” in Hudson’s decision to re-up.

“There’s no evidence that 287(g) has made Hudson County safer,” Rosmarin said. “Instead, when local law enforcement volunteers to do ICE’s work, it … drives a wedge between local law enforcement and the [immigrant] community. Even today, we hope the Hudson County executive [Tom DeGise] takes another look – the county can withdraw from the program whenever it chooses.”

Given that Hudson is the most ethnically diverse county in the Garden State, Rosmarin said the county’s action “has made Hudson the poster child for what a Trump immigrant enforcement program will look like.”

Nationwide, he said that during fiscal 2015, ICE deported 235,413 people, including nearly 70,000 physically arrested by the federal agency.

Another advocacy group opposed to Hudson’s participation in 287(g) is the American Friends Service Committee which operates an Immigrant Rights Program based in Newark.

Chia-Chia Wang, a program manager, said the AFSC has had a tough time getting statistical information from ICE about Hudson but she said that what is known is that for 2015, “over 300 immigration detainer requests were issued in Hudson County,” but she said it’s unclear how many were deported.

And, she said, it appears that Hudson’s enforcement of 287(g) “has cast a wider net” beyond those undocumented immigrants held for serious crimes to include people “with no criminal convictions or those with one or two misdemeanors” or people being held with criminal convictions for offenses that happened two to three decades ago and for which they previously served time. And many of those people are being held indefinitely, with a lot separated from family members, she said.

“County jails should not be enforcing immigration law,” Wang said. “Immigration detention is never a solution to immigration problems but we’re using that as a way of doing it.”

Sally Pillay, a staffer with First Friends of New Jersey & New York, a nonprofit that trains volunteers to visit and interview immigrant detainees in jails in Hudson, Bergen and Essex counties, said that many are being funneled here through southwestern border towns in California, Arizona and Texas.

“There are also asylum seekers,” Pillay said, from Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, along with others from Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and, especially Haiti, since the most recent hurricane struck the island.

“Some have longstanding ties to their [U.S.] communities, some are green card holders, some have past criminal convictions for things like marijuana or drug possession, DUI, some have more than one aggravated felony and all are now languishing in jail … and being held in detention for deportation to a country they no longer know,” because they have lived many years in the U.S.

“ICE’s goal,” Pillay said, seems to be “to deport as many as they can.”

While Hudson, she said, has taken steps to improve detainees’ access to medical care, “and we commend them for moving in that direction, still, she added, the county shouldn’t be participating in a “flawed system.”

Nationally, ICE mandates a “bed quota” of 34,000 for detainees, Pillay said, “but it is said those numbers are to rise to 47,000 by next year.”

Meanwhile, while Kearny may not be a sanctuary city, Santos said, “we don’t make inquiries about people’s immigration status,” when they apply for a marriage license or construction permit or register kids for school.

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