New Jersey’s Bergen County was the remaining locality in the state to continue holding a federal immigration contract when the commissioner board voted unanimously last month to end the agreement. Last Friday, the remaining 15 immigrants at the jail were removed, a week ahead of schedule. It was the culmination of years of organizing by immigrants and advocates.
But they said hopes were still dashed that day, because rather than just releasing detained immigrants to their communities, officials transferred them elsewhere. While NorthJersey.com reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not say where the men were, advocates say they “were moved hundreds of miles away to Batavia, New York.”
“Just after the stroke of midnight, people were roused from their sleep and told that they were
being transferred,” the Interfaith Campaign For Just Closures said in a statement Monday. “At least one person was able to place a call to a family member to let them know what was happening before they were placed in vans and driven through the night, for seven hours, arriving after dawn on Friday morning at the Buffalo Service Processing Center.”
The coalition said that the men had spent weeks agonizing over whether they’d be allowed to rejoin their families or just shuttled off to another harmful facility. Both advocates and the state’s U.S. senators had been urging officials to let detained immigrants go home to their communities, the latter citing ICE’s lax pandemic protocols. Detained immigrants in the days leading to Friday’s transfers had also recorded messages pleading for relief, advocates said.
“I don’t know what’s exactly happening,” Mr. R said. “I really hope and pray for God that we don’t get transferred to another state where we don’t know nothing about it or anything that what’s gonna happen to us, and we really pray that we be- that we really do be getting released.” Mr. K said he didn’t know if his future would be release, or deportation. “I mean, it’s putting a poisoning on my kids, on my wife, and on me.”
The Interfaith Campaign For Just Closures said that in the rush from Bergen early Friday, none of the men were able to collect any of their personal belongings, including important paperwork related to their immigration cases. Recall that the county commissioner board’s vote ending the jail’s immigration contract was weeks ago.
It must again be acknowledged that the termination of Bergen jail’s immigration agreement was the result of years of protests by affected immigrants and their advocates, “of protests inside & outside these jails,” WNYC reporter Matt Katz noted. But Friday’s transfers show that’s only half the battle. ICE had every power to release detained immigrants, but made a decision not to, shuffling them off in the night (a common practice by ICE). ICE also transferred detained immigrants as it’s already made clear its complete disregard for their safety. Recall this past summer a judge forced the agency to carry out the most basic of safety measures, like COVID testing, while transferring immigrants.
“ICE’s indifference to the health and safety of people in detention is unconscionable,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project Staff Attorney Eunice Cho said at the time.
“ICE has the sole discretion to release people in detention and our elected officials
have influence over ICE,” the Interfaith Campaign For Just Closures said. “All our friends deserve to be home, in their communities, surrounded by their families, not incarcerated indefinitely simply because of their immigration status. The struggle is not over until all our friends are free and ICE detention is ended in the United States.”
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