Hudson County, like the Mexican border, was a focal point of the national conflict over federal immigration policies in 2018.
Controversy over the housing of detainees in the county jail overshadowed some of the county’s more positive news, like opening the new Secaucus campus of the Hudson County Schools of Technology in September.
Deaths in the Hudson County Correctional Facility and reports critical of the handling of detainees and regular prisoners in 2017 had led to significant reforms.
But activists inspired by increasing detentions of undocumented immigrants by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents led to a confrontation with the county over its contract to house those detainees in the county jail.
At the center of this controversy was a vote taken by the Board of Freeholders in July to renew the contract for another ten years – after many of the activists were told no vote would take place.
A forced review
Protests and increasing critical national media attention on the contract forced the county to review the approval. In September, as the deadline approached for cancelling the control, County Executive Tom DeGise proposed a new contract with a sunset clause that would allow the county to stop housing detainees by the end of 2019. This was designed to appease the activists who wanted an immediate withdrawal.
But since a new freeholder board will take over in January 2020, the contract revision is more symbolic than it is substantial.
Mercy, or “blood money?”
As ICE raids throughout New Jersey increased toward the end of the year, the issue remains one that county officials will have to face going into the New Year.
County officials say doing away with the contract may do more harm than good since detainees held locally could be shipped to more distant jails in places like Alabama, far from families and access to other support services they currently have.
Activists, however, accuse the county of hypocrisy, since Hudson County is one of the most diverse counties in the nation. Jersey City and Union City have declared themselves sanctuary cities, and will not allow their employees to indentify undocumented individuals unless they are charged with serious crimes.
Several other municipalities have also instructed police and other workers not to cooperate with ICE.
Some activists have called the fees the county gets for housing detainees “blood money.” In an effort to avoid being seen balancing the county budget on the backs of detainees, freeholders were by year’s end searching for ways to dedicate those funds to providing better care for the detainees.
An unresolved scandal
After a Wall Street Journal article was published in October, questions were raised about the handling of an alleged rape that took place in Jersey City in 2017 and involved two staffers for Democratic candidate for governor Phil Murphy. Although Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez was vindicated by a state report, a legislative committee holding hearings raised serious questions about how the matter was handled on every level of government, and a fresh look at the case has been assigned to the Middlesex County prosecutor. By year’s end, the matter was still unresolved.
On a more elegiac note, in 2018 three larger-than-life political icons passed away: former Rep. Neil Gallagher, former freeholder Neil Carroll, and political columnist Tony Amabile.