ESSEX COUNTY — Essex County has been tentatively selected as the site for a new detention center which would house up to 2,700 illegal immigrants in federal custody, U.S. officials said today.
The selection will become final once a financial deal with the county can be struck and the facility’s designs are worked out, said Gillian M. Brigham, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The detention center would be built according to new agency standards. For example, violent offenders would be housed separately from the general illegal population, Brigham said.
Essex County officials have proposed expanding the county correctional facility in Newark, as well Delaney Hall, a residential center for criminal offenders that prepares them for re-entry into society. A third facility would be built nearby, according to the county’s bid.
County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said today he could not comment until he received official word from the federal agency.
ICE sought proposals from local jurisdictions for a roughly 2,250-bed facility within two hours of New York City and Philadelphia. The proximity to the two urban centers would reduce the cost of holding and transporting illegal immigrants in the Northeast, officials have said. In addition to Essex County, officials from Pennsylvania’s Pike and York counties also submitted bids.
DiVincenzo said earlier that the county drew up its bid based on a nearly two-and-a-half-year partnership with the federal agency detaining federal prisoners and the potential revenue for the county. The federal government pays Essex County $105 a day for every illegal immigrant housed within county facilities.
ICE uses 62 private and county facilities across the country to house about 17,000 detainees. Five facilities in New Jersey, including sites in Hudson, Bergen and Monmouth counties and the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility in Union County, have about 1,639 beds.
On an average day, Essex County’s correctional facility holds about 465 illegal immigrants. It is estimated the facility could hold another 1,000 detainees split between the main jail and Delaney Hall.
Immigrant advocates who oppose detentions on the grounds that immigration violations are considered a civil, not criminal, offense under U.S. law, have denounced Essex County’s bid for the site.
Several groups say ICE has a spotty immigrant detention track record in which reports of detainee abuse, mixing civil immigration detainees with criminal inmate populations and denying health services or access to legal help have been documented in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country.
The Rev. Gene Squeo, co-pastor of St. Patrick and Assumption/All Saints Church in Jersey City, said the proposal is a costly and unnecessarily callous solution.
"Basically it’s an inhumane response to the challenge of undocumented people in the states," Squeo said.
Alternatives, such as sponsorships by church or legal groups that would assure court appearances by illegal immigrants, who often have steadfast ties to a community, would be just as effective and less expensive.
Brigham said ICE officials, under the direction of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, are striving to improve the immigrant detention system nationwide.
Brigham said that the proposed New Jersey facility — if the agreement is finalized — and a recently announced 600-bed civil detention facility awarded to Karnes County, Texas, will be constructed as examples of a new, improved approach to immigration detention.
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