New Jersey Bill to End Immigration Detention Voted Out of Committee
FAIR Take | May 2021
A bill to ban immigration detention contracts in New Jersey stalled in committee two months ago but now appears to have been revived. The committee has now voted to advance the bill in the legislative process. Under these detention contracts, local governments and private contractors agree to hold illegal aliens in custody for up to 48 hours for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while they go through the deportation process.
New Jersey has only two remaining counties with detention contracts, Bergen and Hudson. Essex County decided last month that it would end its contract in August. It also has only one private detention facility, the Elizabeth Detention Center, operated by contractor CoreCivic.
Senate Bill (SB) 3361 was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D- Teaneck) on January 11. The companion bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 5207, sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), was introduced on January 4 and has been scheduled for a committee hearing on June 2. Both bills not only prohibit new detention contracts, but ban extending or renewing current ones, which would eventually end all of them statewide.
SB 3361 was first heard in the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on March 11, where it was met with significant opposition from local officials and others, concerned not only that ending the contracts would mean more illegal aliens at large in the community who were able to commit new crimes, but also that any illegal aliens who still remained in custody would simply have to be detained in facilities further away in other states. Moreover, some opponents stressed that the contracts are also significant streams of federal revenue to the counties—without which taxes might have to go up and services could be cut—as well as providing well-paid unionized jobs.
The committee did not vote on the bill at the hearing in March, but on May 20 they voted it out on party lines, four to two. Senators Nia Gill (D-Montclair), Linda Greenstein (D-Cranbury), Joseph Cryan (D-Union) and Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) voted for it while Anthony M. Bucco (D-Denville) and Declan J. O’Scanlon Jr. (R-Holmdel) voted against it.
Notably, however, the committee did not report the bill directly to the Senate floor. Instead, they referred it to another committee, the Committee on Budget and Appropriations.
Open-borders advocates renewed their calls for Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-South Amboy) to schedule the Assembly bill for committee hearings immediately, and for floor votes by both chambers before their summer recess. Just as with drivers’ licenses in 2019, however, it would not be surprising for the legislature to wait until after elections in November and then pass the bills in the “lame duck” session, a common practice with controversial bills in the Garden State.