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Central NJ Immigrant Rights Groups Disappointed on 1-Year Anniversary Announcement of Detention System Reform

August 5, 2010

For Immediate Release: August 5, 2010

Contacts:

  • Rita Dentino, Casa Freehold, 732-492-1852
  • Marien Casillas Pabellon, New Labor, 732-246-2900
  • Karina Wilkinson, MCCIR, kwilkinson_act(at)yahoo.com

Freehold, NJ – Casa Freehold, Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and New Labor join immigrants rights’ groups nationwide to mark the one year anniversary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton’s announcement of plans for a major overhaul of the agency’s immigration detention system.  Little has changed in the year since Mr. Morton’s announcement.

Last August, in response to sharp criticism from advocacy groups, community organizations, and government officials, Mr. Morton promised sweeping changes aimed at improving detention conditions for the nearly 400,000 immigrants held in ICE custody each year.  According to Mr. Morton, the agency intended to take substantial steps to transform the sprawling network of jails and detention centers into a “civil detention system”.

“Instead of seeing improved conditions for immigrant detainees in facilities like Monmouth County jail, we’re seeing more detention beds, people being moved from facility to facility without easy access to counsel or family visits, and ongoing violations of ICE’s own national detention standards,” said Daniel Cummings of MCCIR.

In a National Law Journal, February 8, 2010 interview, Morton said, “This isn’t a question of whether or not we will detain people. We will detain people, and we will detain them on a grand scale… It’s a necessary power.” He admitted, “The key question is how we detain people — and in my view, the system is run haphazardly.”  The Obama Administration is detaining and deporting more people per year than ever before.

Graphic by Geza Schenk

ICE has contracts with jails in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth and Sussex counties.  These jails house immigration detainees, with some 400 to 500 detainees in Essex county alone.

Jay (a pseudonym), whose family member is detained in the Monmouth jail, said “When I go to see him, it’s behind a glass.  It’s degrading.” Only some detainees get the required 30 minute visits.  “You travel so far, and it’s such a short visit,” said Jay.  Most of the detainees in the Monmouth jail are from New York.  Their relatives must travel two hours or more to see them.

Immigrant detainees are not being held on criminal violations. Reform should include proposed alternatives to detention, many of which would reduce costs, and repeal of the mandatory detention law.

“Our local community has been greatly impacted by detention and deportation. We have had both mothers and fathers in detention. The worst impact is on the children. They are confused, sad, crying, not understanding why their father isn’t with them. Not long ago I was with a young boy who hoped to see his dad on his birthday, but he was not allowed in, so he turned 11 without seeing his father,”  said Rita Dentino of Casa Freehold.

Criticisms of ICE among advocacy groups have included the lack of adequate medical and mental health care, including shocking stories of deaths in detention.  Five of the 113 deaths in ICE custody since 2003 occurred in New Jersey, one in Monmouth in 2005, where a 43 year old man was not treated in time for a heart attack.  (Nina Bernstein New York Times, April 2, 2009)  On Monday, the ACLU of Southern California and its partners, including the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, filed the first class action lawsuit in the country on behalf of mentally ill and mentally disabled detainees who are “left defenseless in a system they cannot comprehend” where, according to the complaint, “the Government has established no procedures for identifying whether a person is ‘incompetent’ in the first instance; no procedures for evaluating the mental health of individuals in immigration proceedings… no system for appointing counsel for those incompetent to represent themselves; and no rules for determining how people subject to prolonged detention as a result of their mental disabilities can be considered for release from incarceration pending resolution of their immigration cases.”

“Assistant Secretary Morton issued a June 30th memo directing field offices not to spend detention resources on vulnerable populations, including the elderly and mentally ill or disabled.  But vulnerable detainees continue to be held in New Jersey jails, including Monmouth County jail,” said Karina Wilkinson of MCCIR.

The protest in front of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s office on Thursday at 6pm is part of the nationwide Dignity Not Detention campaign, whose main goals are to reduce detention spending by the Obama Administration, secure release options as a meaningful alternative to detention, restore due process in the immigration system, and stop the expansion of enforcement programs (i.e. ICE ACCESS, 287(g)) that are contributing to the growth of the detention system.  For more information go to www.dignitynotdetention.org.

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