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Slippery ICE: Feds Tell Jersey Detainees They’re Being Transferred to the Deep South, Then Reverse

Detainee hunger strike starts, stops amid conflicting rumors.

Amba Guerguerian May 18

Hudson County Jail.

Of the roughly 50 people detained by ICE at Hudson County Jail, five were transferred to Georgia and Louisiana Tuesday. 

Both Josue and Jacques, who are detained at the jail in Kearny, New Jersey, told The Indypendent that an ICE official informed detainees on Thursday that by the end of July, five people per week would be transferred to facilities in the South until there are no more people detained by ICE at the jail. 

Josue says that an ICE official told him and four others the news. “He said that they might close ICE in Hudson. He said that it was because of the rallies people have been doing outside asking them to close ICE in sanctuary cities like New York and New Jersey. What they’ve been asking outside is for us to get released, not for us to be moved to a different state,” said Josue, who, like Jacques, has been held at Hudson County Jail for two years.

According to Jacques, who was told by the official of the move separately from Josue, the official said that the reason for the alleged depopulation was that a bill that would ban new ICE detention facilities in New Jersey and end some of the current contracts is likely to pass through the New Jersey State legislature and that ICE wants to transfer people out before this happens. 

“He came in and said, ‘you guys need to start sending out your heavy stuff—like your books or your paperwork or whatever. I asked why. He said, ‘Well everybody’s gonna be transferred.’ He said the bill is about to pass and they want to be moving everybody before that bill is passed,” said Jacques. “Everybody’s on edge right now. Everyone’s like super depressed and anxious,” he added.

In reality, this bill is at a standstill in both the houses of the legislature. 

“We’re trying to get congressional and U.S. senators involved in finding out what ICE is really doing because we need transparency.” 

According to Tania Mattos of Freedom for Immigrants, both spokespeople for ICE and for the jail have said that the transfers have not been confirmed and that the Hudson County Jail will not have all of its detainees removed. The agency said that the people who are being transferred have long-standing cases and therefore they can wait out their hearing in the South, while their cases will still be heard in their original jurisdictions. 

“The ICE guards told the detainees but the director of ICE for the NYC Field office, the commissioners, the directors of the jail are denying that this is happening. But we don’t trust them. We’re acting as if they’re trying to push for depopulation,” Mattos told The Indypendent on Monday. “We’re trying to get congressional and US senators involved in finding out what ICE is really doing because we need transparency,” she said. 

Multiple lawyers and advocates have been calling ICE and the jail pushing for transparency and for the reversal of the five transfers that were made today.

Neither ICE nor Hudson County has responded to a request for comment for this report.

Josue, another person in detention at Hudson County Jail, was one of about 15 people who went on hunger strike Thursday morning in protest of the news of transfers. 

“I am asking, please, that my case be re-considered. I have spent two long, difficult years away from my family. I would like to have the opportunity to be released, even with an ankle bracelet or with parole … I want to work so I can support my family,” said Josue. “I’m on strike because I am tired of being imprisoned and of the abuse from immigration [ICE] and the jail.”

Then, Tuesday morning, detainees said that the same ICE official told them there would be no more additional transfers after this week. Josue has ended his hunger strike. 

“It’s not easy being here for two years. I’ve been taking medication for anxiety, depression. That’s something that I never did before,” said Josue of his time at the facility. 

• • •

In 2020, Hudson County renewed a 10-year contract with ICE from which they made $19.8 million in 2019 (this number dipped to $7.7 million in 2020 after the release of some detainees with COVID co-morbidities). 

Two other northern New Jersey counties, Essex and Bergen, have contractual relationships with ICE to house detained people for a per diem rate of $110-$120 per detainee. At the end of April, Essex County, which raked in a whopping 33.4 million in ICE dollars in 2019, announced it will end a 13-year-long relationship with ICE and move people detained by the agency out of Essex County Jail by August 2021. This decision came after relentless pushback from people detained and advocates alike, as well as some critical press.

“What they’ve been asking outside is for us to get released, not for us to be moved to a different state.”

In wake of Essex’s announcement, Hudson County said it was open to ending its relationship with ICE and Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton said he currently isn’t accepting any additional people detained by ICE admitted to Bergen County Jail, where there are currently between 150 and 200 people in detention. 

Essex has begun transferring people detained by ICE out of the jail. Despite calls from advocates to release detainees on parole, only a handful have been allowed to go home to await their legal proceedings and others have been transferred to Hudson and Bergen County jails. 

ICE is not legally bound to keep people in detention. They have the discretion to parole anyone they have detained. Many people spend years in detention — the same as being incarcerated in prison — awaiting their deportation hearings. It doesn’t matter if they never had a run-in with the law, but were swept up in an ICE raid. Those who ended up under the auspices of ICE because they were found guilty of a crime already served their time in a county jail or state prison. 

Jacques says that ICE should not be transferring people to Louisiana and Georgia whose support networks are in the Greater New York area and who have already had to make the difficult transition to detention — making friends with detainees and jail staff — to a facility halfway across the country. “In general, I’m happy if things ever do close down so nobody in the future would come to this dump. But I don’t wanna go somewhere where I don’t know nothing and I’m gonna have to start over, brand new again,” he said.

Mattos adds that “ICE should be scrupulous in ensuring that their spokespeople are not misleading detainees about such pivotal information as relocation or depopulation, which results in unnecessary psychological trauma.”

Micah Jay contributed to this report. 

Jacques is a pseudonym.

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