New Jersey’s legislature has sent a historic piece of legislation to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk that would ban new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts in the state, as well as prohibit the renewal of existing agreements. Advocates said that should Murphy sign the legislation into law—his office has not commented on the bill, NJ.com reported—it will begin to have immediate effects.
Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said in the report that “banning future ICE detention grants advocates and attorneys the necessary breathing room to fight for releases and put an end to our state’s existing agreements without the threat of a new contract burying our efforts.”
NJ reports that the bill—which was sponsored by Democratic legislators Loretta Weinberg in the state senate and Gordon Johnson in the general assembly—had come to a standstill but was apparently reinvigorated after a New Jersey county ended an ICE agreement of over a decade. “People have died in these facilities,” NJ.com reports Freedom for Immigrants’ Tania Mattos said following a protest earlier this year. “People are suffering right now in these facilities.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey said that if Murphy signs the bill into law, “New Jersey would be among the first states to bar the expansion and renewal of immigration detention within state borders, building on a national movement to end immigration detention.” In April, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill phasing out the use of for-profit jails in the state by 2024, including a notorious immigration jail. In 2019, California and Illinois similarly took action to dramatically scale back ICE detention.
Back in New Jersey, the legislation “would not end current contracts—but three counties have already signaled their plans to house immigrant detainees could come to an end,” NJ.com continued. Mattos told NJ.com that not only must Murphy sign the bill right away, but that immigrants currently detained in the state should be released to continue fighting their cases from their own homes and communities. A major worry is that rather than release detained immigrants—which ICE has every ability to do—they’ll instead be transferred to another area of the country.
“Our lawmakers acknowledge with this vote that we cannot continue to subject New Jerseyans to the indignities and civil rights violations that are inherent to immigration detention, and we cannot continue to enable the separation of families from their loved ones,” said the ACLU of New Jersey’s Ami Kachalia. “We urge Gov. Murphy to sign this legislation as quickly as possible, to ensure that New Jersey can keep families together and treat all people with dignity.”
“New Jersey took its place among the states to say no to the cruelty of immigration detention, and passing this legislation sends an important message about what—and who—New Jerseyans stand for,” said organization policy director Sarah Fajardo. “One in four New Jerseyans is an immigrant—and all of us are better for living in a place that understands that for all people to thrive, we must end immigration detention in our state.”
The bill comes following the spring announcement of a pandemic relief fund for undocumented workers in the state. While excluded workers launched actions including a hunger strike in hope of winning significant relief, Murphy announced just $40 million in funds. By comparison, New York passed more than $2 billion in relief for excluded workers. However, NJ.com reported that Democratic Assemblymember Annette Chaparro and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz introduced a resolution to put nearly $890 million into this fund. “This resolution ensures no one is left behind in the aftermath of this pandemic,” Chaparro said in the report.
“For one reason or another, there are low income residents in New Jersey who were excluded from federal aid—some of these people worked the hardest during the height of COVID-19 to make sure we had our essentials: food, paper products, medicine, and groceries,” she continued. “Now it’s time for New Jersey to pay it forward.”