TRENTON — A state Senate panel heard arguments for and against prohibiting county and private correctional facilities from entering into agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain unauthorized immigrants.

The Senate Law & Public Safety announced before the debate, though, that it would delay an anticipated vote on the topic.

Four facilities have contracts to hold immigrant detainees in New Jersey for ICE: the Bergen, Essex and Hudson county jails and the Elizabeth Detention Center operated by CoreCivic Inc. The proposal would prohibit those contracts from being renewed and prevent any new, future contracts.

West Orange resident Matt Dragon said people are being detained for civil immigration violations despite never having been alleged to violate any criminal statutes.

“We as New Jersey residents, at least in some counties, are literally making money off their detention and suffering,” Dragon said.

Ami Kachalia, a campaign strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said ICE has previously said that a lack of local bed capacity has limited its enforcement efforts and caused it to grant parole to more detainees – and so, she says, limiting future ICE contracts would help curtail it further.

“While it is a federally run system, each state, county and private facility that profits from detaining people for ICE is complicit in its harming of more than half a million people detained each year and the millions more who live their lives in fear due to the looming threat of ICE enforcement,” Kachalia said.

Immigration advocates said ICE last October issued requests for information that indicate its interest in adding 900 to 1,800 beds in the area. They say the proposed law could prevent that.

“We have an opportunity as a state to signal to our communities that they’re welcome here and they’re valued for more than a daily bed rate,” said Katy Sastre, campaign strategist for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

That rate goes as high as $110 a night and has yielded as much as $25 million a year at its peak for Hudson County, where Board of County Commissioners chairman Anthony Vaineiri said lawmakers should give the Biden administration a chance to address immigration issues before acting.

“I visited these detainees in Hudson County Correctional Facility,” Vaineri said. “I’ve seen them all say to me, every single one of them I spoke to there … does not want to leave New Jersey.

“So if this bill gets passed and becomes law, where are these detainees going to go?” Vainieri said. “That’s my first question, and the most important question: Where are these detainees going to go? How are their families going to visit them in Louisiana, in Texas and Arizona?”

Private immigration attorney Alan Pollack said he sympathizes with the activists but that by shifting detentions to other states, it would cause challenges for families and lawyers. He said it has already happened during the pandemic to shift people to places with more space.

“Since detention will continue, those that have been housed in New Jersey-based facilities or would be housed in New Jersey-based facilities in many cases will be housed now in facilities that if not hundreds of miles away thousands of miles away from here,” Pollack said.

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Immigration critics said the proposed law ignores the law and puts New Jerseyans’ safety at risk.

“The sponsors of the bill care more about politics than public safety. This is really about giving further safe haven to all undocumented, regardless of what criminal background some of them may have,” said Jeffrey Hastings.

“A lot of open-borders advocates demonize correctional facilities that partner with ICE and the private detention facilities, and they’re hoping to convince the American people that no individuals entering the United States illegally should ever be detained,” said Jonathan Hanen, a field representative for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “This concept of open borders, however, has public safety and national security risks.”

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