By Jordan Weiner
Last year, in a series of exhilarating events, the three New Jersey counties that housed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees in their jails announced that they would no longer do so.
Around the same time, Governor Phil Murphy signed landmark legislation that prohibits localities from entering into new ICE detention contracts in the state. At the end of 2021, fewer than 200 immigrants were detained in New Jersey.
Community activists celebrated the news. For years, they have demonstrated outside detention centers, flooded town halls and coordinated weekly campaigns to appeal to lawmakers to end ICE detention in New Jersey. These efforts have helped expose many of the abuses suffered by those in immigration detention, such as physical and sexual assault, racist treatment by guards, denial of medical care, spoiled food, and unsanitary and unsanitary living conditions. dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which has long represented those detained by ICE in New Jersey, was part of those efforts. We recognize the crucial role that community mobilizations to shut down local detention centers play in the broader movement to end immigration detention nationwide.
Then came the painful question that accompanied it: if ICE continued its anti-immigrant activities, what would it do with the immigrants in its custody in New Jersey if it could no longer detain them here?
The AFSC, along with many community members and organizations, called on ICE to release them. ICE has the power to release detainees from its custody to fight deportation to their homes or community.
According to a report 2021 by the American Immigration Council, the overwhelming majority of non-detained immigrants appear for their hearings in immigration court. ICE, however, ignored this statistic and transferred them to out-of-state detention centers located hundreds or thousands of miles from their families, communities and lawyers.
The impact of the transfers was immediate. The AFSC has received panicked phone calls from our customers who describe how ICE officers violently woke them up early in the morning and threw their belongings in the trash.
They were handcuffed, placed on airplanes and dispersed to detention centers across the country. Our legal and social work teams worked quickly to learn the policies of each of the new facilities, including how to arrange confidential legal calls, contact our client’s ICE agents, and appear in unfamiliar immigration courts. We are also committed to representing them and as many other individuals ICE has transferred out of state who have qualified for our services as much as possible.
There was another problem. ICE declined to share information with New Jersey legal service providers and other advocates about where it was transferring New Jersey residents.
Without this information, we had no way of tracking the people ICE uprooted from New Jersey each month and dispersed across the country.
Prior to the transfers, ICE provided nonprofit legal service providers with a list of people it apprehended and detained in New Jersey. The information allowed us to get in touch with those who needed to be represented.
We believed that ICE would continue to provide this information, as well as the facilities to which detainees were transferred. After all, the information was not substantially different from what they were already giving us, and why would ICE cut off people’s access to free lawyers to help them?
It’s been almost a year since we first asked ICE for the list of transfers, devoting dozens of hours of effort to fruitless phone calls, emails, letters and meetings.
During this time, ICE transferred immigrants out of New Jersey who are eligible for our services but have no way to connect with us. Many of them will be alone in immigration court, where they are about 11 times less likely seek compensation than if they had a lawyer. This will lead to a large number of avoidable evictions.
It is unacceptable that ICE continues to transfer New Jersey residents out of state while avoiding accountability. ICE must listen to the outcry of New Jerseyans who have rallied with families and worked with lawmakers to end detention in the state. We do not want ICE to detain our loved ones and community members, and we must end the policing of immigrants in New Jersey.
We also call on Newark ICE Field Office Director John Tsoukaris, ICE National Leadership and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to work with us to ensure that those detained by ICE in New Jersey and transferred out of state have access to the protections they are. right under the law. Giving us that list would be a start.
Jordan Weiner is an attorney with the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program. She represents those detained by ICE here in New Jersey, as well as those transferred out of state.
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