WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez (both D-NJ) urged the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end the out-of-state transfer of people detained in New Jersey, and to release detainees from custody who do not fall under the current enforcement prioritization scheme. The letter comes on the heels of legislation recently passed and signed into law by New Jersey legislators and Governor Phil Murphy prohibiting state, local, and private entities from entering into, renewing or extending detention agreements with ICE. Booker and Menendez have both previously called for an end to contracts between ICE and local governments in New Jersey.

“When the ICE detention program at the Essex County Jail closed earlier this year, our offices made several inquiries encouraging you to release detained individuals who did not fall within the enforcement priorities outlined by Secretary Mayorkas, rather than transferring said individuals to detention centers located several states away,” the Senators wrote to acting ICE Director Tae D. Johnson. “Reports indicate that at least 46 people detained at Essex were transferred to facilities across the country, including to Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. Transferring detained individual’s increases their risk of contracting COVID-19, endangers immigrants’ mental and physical health and wellbeing, and makes it extremely difficult to remain in contact with their existing legal counsel.

“Not only do transfers expose detainees to COVID-19, but they also threaten the physical, mental, and emotional health of detained individuals,” the Senators continued. “Any form of detention is a traumatic experience, especially among immigrant detainees who are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder both during and after detention than the general population. For detainees with existing medical conditions, transfer risks can interrupt necessary or urgent medical care. The destination facility may also neglect to provide the same treatment as the original facility, change a person’s medications, or leave a gap in care during the transfer process. 

“To protect the health, safety, and human rights of detained individuals in New Jersey, we urge

ICE to use its discretionary authority to release detainees who do not fall within the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement priorities into the care of their communities. Thank you for prompt attention to this important matter,” the Senators concluded.

In 2020, Senator Booker joined his colleagues in sending a letter to DHS, ICE, and CBP requesting information about the policies and procedures their respective agencies have in place to prepare for and manage a potential spread of the coronavirus among detainees and staff in DHS facilities. Senator Booker also called on the DHS to halt immigration enforcement at hospitals and medical facilities to ensure undocumented immigrants are not discouraged from seeking medical care for COVID-19. Additionally, the Senator sent a letter again to DHS, ICE, and CBP to release vulnerable detainees from custody who were particularly susceptible to COVID-19. Finally, Senator Booker introduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, transformative legislation that targets the inhumane conditions of detention centers and protects the civil and human rights of immigrants.

The full text of the letter can be viewed here.