Hudson County Freeholders seem to be bowing to pressure from criminal justice and immigration advocates. County Executive Tom DeGise said the county would initiate a “path to exit” by 2020 of its agreement to hold detainees at the Hudson County Correctional Facility. The 10-year agreement stipulates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pay the county $120 per day per person. For the estimated 800 detainees at the facility, that brings the county about $35 million a year. The announcement was made as opponents of the contract were gathering for a protest in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. The Freeholders will not vote on expected changes until their Oct. 11 meeting.
The intention to terminate the county’s contract by 2020 is part of an agreement to end a lawsuit by Hudson County religious leaders that alleged county officials violated New Jersey’s public meetings law, the Open Public Meetings Act. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of seven Hudson County religious leaders. According to the suit, the process “reeked of secrecy and deception,” with a rushed vote intended to avoid public scrutiny amid growing anger over the contract.
The Freeholders voted unanimously on July 10 to hold an August vote on renewing its expired contract with ICE, surprising activists who planned to pressure freeholders to sever the contract at a meeting scheduled two days later.
“This is really the incarceration of people here seeking asylum.” – Gary Commins
Religious leader from Bayonne
One of thosereligious leaders who filed suit, Gary Commins, an associate priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Church of the Incarnation in Jersey City,is from Bayonne.
“It was my first ACLU lawsuit,” said Commins. “I’m 1-0.”
“I’m very glad they took the time to reconsider a hasty decision without public input,” said Commins. “However, there are some complications because some of the people who would have been detained there would be shipped elsewhere, even further from legal assistance and family.Life is so complicated that you can’t take a win and be gleeful about it.”
He calls the system of incarcerating people who emigrate here “part of a larger dehumanizing system.”
“This is really the incarceration of people here seeking asylum,” Commins said. “It’s part of a system that I personally think we should be ashamed of as a country.”
The congregation at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church reflects the Hudson County community, which is home to people from many different countries. For Commins, his faith means “respecting the dignity of every human being,” no matter their country of origin.
“They are normal people, regular people, just like American citizens, seeking a better life for themselves,” Commins said. “Bayonne has been a gateway for immigrants for a century, so it’s a part of the identity of the community to be a welcoming place. ICE undermines that in every community where they operate.”
Commins, who lives uptown, walks to Hudson County Park in the evenings. “If you don’t hear languages that aren’t English you aren’t listening very carefully,” he said.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.