On November 4, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Newark arrested 88 inmates who had been released from New Jersey prisons. All the inmates detained by ICE had criminal violations and were either offenders or convicted of serious crimes. Immigrant advocates from various organizations raised concerns about such detention during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
New Jersey State Prison System Releases Inmates to Curtail Spread of COVID-19
New Jersey state officials released 2,261 inmates, creating a 15% single-day drop in the state prison population. Releasing the inmates was a step by lawmakers to curtail the spread of the coronavirus in the New Jersey prisons. It is expected that 1,000 more inmates will be released in the coming months.
New Jersey prisons had the highest COVID-related death rate in the country. Reducing the prison population was the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Public Health Officials determined. The lawmakers signed bill S2519, which reduced the sentences of inmates serving during the public health emergency, up to eight months. Inmates who are eligible to be released within the next year were eligible for time off their sentences. Inmates convicted of murder and some sexual offenses did not qualify for early release.
Among the prisoners released, eleven tested positive for COVID-19. The Department of Corrections took measures to prevent them from spreading the coronavirus.
Newark ICE and New Jersey Immigrant Advocates Respond
Emilio Dabul, a spokesman from ICE in Newark, said the inmates taken into custody were all “violent offenders or have convictions for serious crimes such as homicide, aggravated assault, drug trafficking and child sexual exploitation.” He said, “some were placed in removal proceedings and housed in ICE facilities outside of New Jersey, while others were detained locally pending execution of their final orders of removal.”
Volunteers and Immigrant advocates for the American Friends Service Committee in Newark raised concerns after learning that the inmates had been arrested by ICE. Organizing and Advocacy Director Chia-Chia Wang said, “We are extremely disturbed that people who had finished their sentences are not released, and during COVID time ICE is continuing to incarcerate detainees and send them further away from their lawyers and family members.” She added, “To me, it’s a more severe punishment because it’s deportation.”
Immigrant advocates also reached out to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo about issuing executive orders that would halt the expansion of the immigrant prisons in their states. “The Executive Orders would prevent these transfers to ICE custody and provide safety for immigrant communities during this time of New Jersey prison release and increased ICE enforcement,” said Rebekah Entralgo, a spokeswoman for Freedom for Immigrants, an organization pushing for the abolishment of immigration detention.
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