Bill to End Immigration Detention Contracts in New Jersey Stalls in Committee
FAIR Take | March 2021
Open-borders advocates believe that no individuals entering the country illegally should be detained. These individuals have pushed legislative efforts in states nationwide to prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from operating private detention facilities and to restrict contractual agreements with state or local correctional facilities. Already California and Illinois have enacted laws to ban local governments or private contractors from renewing their contracts with ICE. This legislative session, after several Democrat counties renewed their contracts with ICE, New Jersey’s state legislature introduced similar legislation. However, it has unexpectedly failed to advance out of committee.
In New Jersey, three counties have detention contracts: Bergen, Essex and Hudson. These Democrat-controlled counties continue to contract with ICE because the contracts provide both a reliable stream of federal revenue and a significant number of well-paying unionized jobs. In addition to the correctional facilities, there is one private facility, the Elizabeth Detention Center, operated by contractor CoreCivic.
This session, the New Jersey legislature has introduced bills to eliminate the ICE contracts as well as prohibit private ICE facilities. Assembly Bill (AB) 5207, sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) was introduced on January 4, while a companion Senate Bill (SB) 3361 was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D- Teaneck) on January 11. Both bills ban extending or renewing detention contracts, or entering into new ones.
On March 11, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee held a hearing on the Senate bill.
Bill opponent Jeffrey Hastings stated that without the detention space to house them, more criminal aliens would have to be released, which “would put all New Jersey residents at risk.”
Hudson County Commission Chairman Anthony Vainieri (D) testified that the county typically received $25 million in federal funding annually from the detention contract and that without it “[t]axes will increase,” adding “that if the Legislature approves the bill, it should include an appropriation to supplement the county’s lost income.”
Immigration attorney Alan Pollack “said the bill would only wind up relocating detainees to facilities “hundreds or thousands of miles away” in other states, where it would be “virtually impossible for their family members or attorney to visit.”
FAIR staff also submitted written testimony opposing the bill.
Even bill supporters conceded it would likely put corrections officers and other employees out of work.
Much to the surprise of the bill’s supporters and most observers, at the end of the meeting, the committee did not vote on the bill.
Open-borders groups immediately urged Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) to post the Assembly companion bill, AB 5207, in committee for a vote as soon as possible, but so far this has not occurred.
While the bills appear to have stalled, New Jersey has a full-time legislature that operates in essentially continuous session, so they could still be taken up again at any time. The state is also known for often passing controversial bills in the lame-duck period between elections in November and when a newly-elected legislature takes office the following January. Because New Jersey has its state elections in odd years, that could happen again at the end of this year just as it did with the driver’s license bill at the end of 2019.