New Jersey Advocates Release Report Denouncing Conditions in
Essex County Immigration Detention Facilities
Newark, NJ – New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees* and the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic will release a comprehensive report on immigration detention in Essex County. The report, “Immigration Incarceration: The Expansion and Failed Reform of Immigration Detention in Essex County, NJ,” takes a hard look at the results of the expansion of immigration detention in Essex County and will be released on March 23, 2012 at a conference on immigration detention issues at Rutgers—Newark Center for Law & Justice.** A full copy of the report is available online at http://www.afsc.org/document/immigration-incarceration-expansion-and-failed-reform-immigration-detention-essex-county-nj
Despite community protest and concerns over detention conditions, Essex County approved a new contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to increase the number of immigrant detainees held in Essex County by 150 percent, from about 500 to 1,250, in September 2011. “Today’s report establishes that the conditions in the detention facilities involved in this contract fail to meet ICE’s own Performance Based National Standards for a civil immigration detention system,” report authors Semuteh Freeman and Lauren Major explained in a joint statement. Based on interviews with current and former detainees, interviews with local attorneys and visitors, and 203 formal written grievances obtained through an Open Public Records Act request, the report describes the poor conditions faced by immigrant detainees in Essex County Correctional Facility and Delaney Hall, a detention facility operated by the for-profit company Community Education Centers.
The report demonstrates that the Essex County facilities continue to fall short despite the new contract and revamped national standards. “It is shocking how little has changed for immigrant detainees in Essex County jail,” said Karina Wilkinson, co-founder of the Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “Before the expansion, we received numerous complaints about mistreatment from guards and, despite new requirements for guard training, mistreatment continues.”
The report also highlights the need for more transparency in the system, which elected officials have repeatedly sought from ICE. “The more sunlight that is cast upon conditions within detention centers, the more we can ensure that all of our fellow human beings are treated humanely. I commend these groups for taking the initiative to investigate and compile this important report,” said Senator Robert Menendez.
Examples of conditions faced by detainees in Essex County include inadequate medical attention, poor food quality, and mistreatment by guards and staff. “We were personally shocked by some of the accounts we heard about verbal abuse of detainees from ICE staff. Detainees were fearful of retaliation for speaking out but still courageous enough to share their stories with us,” stated Semuteh Freeman and Lauren Major.
The report also finds significant due process concerns for individuals held in Essex County. Detainees in both Delaney Hall and Essex County Correctional Facility routinely make their immigration court appearances via videoconferencing and often have limited opportunities to contact an attorney.
“Delaney Hall’s refusal to permit attorneys into the video tele-conferencing (VTC) room during hearings is a gross violation of due process,” said Amelia Wilson, a detention attorney with American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program. “The VTC room is a courtroom, where all the same constitutionally protected rights apply as they would in an actual courtroom. Barring attorneys from sitting by their client’s side in the VTC area during hearings amounts to a denial of an individual’s right to counsel. “
The poor conditions faced by detainees only underscore the community’s concerns about the lack of government accountability in the expansion of detention in Essex County, NJ, and the report recommends the immediate implementation of a community oversight board for both facilities.
“It is sickening to hear the incarceration of our brothers and sisters discussed as an ‘innovative’ revenue stream for Essex County and to hear the County Executive refer to the ICE contract as a top accomplishment with no regard for the human suffering it creates,” said Kathy O’Leary, coordinator of Pax Christi NJ. “Cleary there is a conflict of interest in Essex County between the money this contract brings in and the responsibility to those in its custody. This conflict makes the establishment of a community review board imperative in ensuring immigrant detainees’ human rights and dignity are upheld.”
The report also recommends that Essex County facilities conform to relevant detention standards and that ICE employ alternatives to detention in a greater number of cases.
“The report demonstrates that ICE detention policy is to expand first, reform never,” said Alina Das, professor and co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU Law School. “What’s happening in Essex County is signal of what’s to come across the country—a growing, inhumane detention system with little oversight, despite claims of reform.”
*New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees is a coalition of organizations and individuals, including American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program; Casa de Esperanza; the Episcopal Immigration Network; Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in NJ; NJ Association on Correction; NJ Forum for Human Rights; Pax Christi NJ; Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights; People’s Organization for Progress- Bergen County Branch; the Reformed Church of Highland Park; Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill ESL; Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair; and IRATE & First Friends.
Lauren Major, Immigrant Rights Clinic, NYU School of Law, 405-226-3396
Semuteh Freeman, Immigrant Rights Clinic, NYU School of Law, 650-267-1278
Karina Wilkinson, Middlesex Co. Coalition for Immigrant Rights, 310-980-0362
Chia-Chia Wang, American Friends Service Committee, 646-509-3860
**Press are invited to attend a formal presentation of the report’s findings at the upcoming conference:
Conference “Immigrant Detainees: Alone, Unrepresented & Imprisoned”
Rutgers-Newark Center for Law & Justice, 123 Washington Street, Newark, NJ 07102
Friday, March 23, 2012, 8:00am-5:30pm
The authors of the report will present their findings during the first panel on “Immigration Incarceration” from 9:00am-10:30am.