NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Arguing that the federal immigration detention system is inhumane and disruptive to families, advocates marched more than three miles across Newark on Thursday to protest a proposed detention facility that will likely be built in New Jersey.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside a downtown Newark federal building that houses the immigration courts. Some held signs that read "release immigrants to their families" or chanted "education, not detention." A handful wore orange jumpsuits similar to the ones issued to immigration detainees held in local jails or other facilities around the state.
"We don't need extra beds for detainees; that is taxpayer money," said Alix Nguefack, a detention program coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC. "We need money instead for education and more social services."
Several of the groups, including AFSC, advocate for what they say are more humane and cost-effective solutions to immigrant detention, such as releasing people to their families while they await legal proceedings or allowing people to wear ankle monitoring bracelets to ensure compliance with court dates.
Immigrants facing deportation or otherwise being held in federal custody are currently subjected to mandatory detention and are housed in a variety of facilities around the country, from detention centers run by private contractors to local jails that receive reimbursement from the federal government for each immigrant detainee.
New Jersey has 1,639 beds for immigrant detainees in five facilities around the state, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. They are housed at a privately run detention center in Elizabeth and correctional facilities in Essex, Monmouth, Hudson and Bergen counties.
ICE had been looking to locate a new detention facility near the New York metropolitan area, and reportedly took bids from officials in Pennsylvania's Pike and York counties before entering into negotiations with Essex County for a 2,700-bed facility.
A service agreement for the facility has not been finalized, but Essex County officials have proposed expanding the existing Essex County Correctional Facility to accommodate the additional immigrant detainees. The facility already houses some immigration detainees at a per-bed rate of $105 per day, according to a spokeswoman for ICE.
An Essex County spokesman said earlier this week the agreement was still being worked on. ICE Spokeswoman Gillian Brigham said Thursday she did not have an update on the negotiations.
In response to Thursday's protest, Brigham said; "ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference."
Brigham said in December that ICE wanted the proposed New Jersey facility — if approved — as well as a 600-bed civil detention facility recently awarded to Karnes County, Texas, to be constructed as examples of a new, improved approach to immigration detention.
Advocacy groups have criticized ICE for what they say is a spotty immigrant detention track record in which reports of detainee abuse, mixing civil immigration detainees with criminal inmate populations and denying health services or access to legal help have been documented in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country.
Groups including AFSC and the Detention Watch Network, among others, say immigration violators shouldn't be subject to mandatory detention at all, on the grounds that immigration violations are considered civil, not criminal, offenses under U.S. law.
"Improving detention conditions is important," said Silky Shah of the Detention Watch Network. "But the No. 1 priority should be to reduce the reliance on the immigration detention system itself."Tags: