IRATE & First Friends Voices Opposition to Plans to Double Immigration Detention in NJ
Proposed Site in Essex County Would Expand an Inhumane System Plagued by a Lack of Oversight that Breaks Apart Families and is Wasteful of Tax Dollars
Elizabeth, NJ - IRATE & First Friends would like to make public its opposition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) proposed 2,250 bed facilities in Essex County. Our opposition stems from the fact that this would constitute a significant expansion to the immigration detention system, more than doubling the current number of immigration detention beds currently in NJ. It is our position, as an organization, that such detention is morally wrong, legally suspect and wasteful of taxpayer funds.
For over a decade, IRATE & First Friends has advocated for an end to the mass detention of immigrants, the use of alternatives to detention and the improvement of conditions for those currently in immigration detention. Since 1997, First Friends has managed a visitor’s service at the Elizabeth Detention Center and has recently begun visitor services for immigrant detainees at both the Hudson and Bergen County jails.
What we have observed is that visits from family, lawyers, clergy, and other humanitarian groups are often restricted or are outright barred. Many of the rights that apply in criminal cases such as the right to counsel, appeals, phone calls, health care, etc. are not extended to people suspected of immigration violations and the entire system is plagued by a lack of oversight. Since 2003 over 100 people have died in immigration detention, some due to obvious medical neglect and US citizens continue to be mistakenly detained and deported.
Though it may be considered a money maker for the county, the new detention center will be paid for by our federal tax dollars. This year the immigration detention system will cost the US taxpayer $1.7 billon. The proposed Essex County complex alone will cost the US taxpayer in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars per day and in excess of $85 million per year. Essex County will not see all of this money either as a private, for-profit company, namely Community Education Centers, or CEC, is said to be involved in the planned expansion.
It is unavoidable that these federal tax dollars will be used to incarcerate long time county residents with significant ties to the community and split apart local Essex county families. Just over 23% of Essex County’s population is foreign born, according to the most recent data from the US Census Bureau. Of this population, 71% have been in this country since before 2000 and 54% are not yet US Citizens.
One must also take into account the negative impacts to the local economy. Immigration detention removes workers and consumers from our local economies, reducing both economic output and consumer spending. Some of the residents of Essex County who will be incarcerated at the new detention center will be from mixed immigration status families in which at least one parent is undocumented or is a legal permanent resident and may include a spouse or children who are US citizens. Many will be the primary breadwinners or caregivers for their families. Their detention will only further burden our already stretched social services.
If the building of a new immigration detention center proceeds in Essex County, the county executive and the freeholders must ensure that the complex avoids the human rights abuses found at other detention centers and that the conditions are humane. As a long time service provider to the immigrant detainee population in NJ, IRATE & First Friends expects to be among those organizations which will assist with such an effort. We will also be vigilant in monitoring general conditions and the treatment of all immigrant detainees in any such facility.
In order for the conditions in the new center to be considered humane at a minimum we would expect the following:
· Visiting hours that include evenings and weekends
· Contact visits for family members
· The establishment of a visitor’s service for detainees with no local family
· No restrictions on visits, phone calls, and other contact with lawyers and clergy
· Adequate mental and physical health care
· Healthy food that complies with dietary restrictions and religious observances
· Unrestricted access to communal religious services
IRATE & First Friends looks forward to a time when immigrants are no longer detained, but in the interim we will work with ICE and the local county administrations and advocate for the rights of those who are being held for suspected immigration violations.
About IRATE & First Friends
IRATE & First Friends is a non-profit organization that upholds the inherent humanity and dignity of all immigrants. We provide visitors and non-legal assistance for immigrants held in detention and work for improved conditions. We advocate for the end of arbitrary, mass detention believing such detention is morally wrong, legally suspect and wasteful of taxpayer funds. www.irate-firstfirends.org