Freeholder Chairman fires back at Sens. Booker and Menendez over ICE

Chairman Anthony Vainieri defended the Freeholders' decision to renew the ICE contract

From left to right: Sen. Booker, Sen. Menendez, Chairman Vainieri
×
From left to right: Sen. Booker, Sen. Menendez, Chairman Vainieri

Hudson County Freeholder Chairman Anthony Vainieri has fired back after comments made by New Jersey U.S. Senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.

Their criticism was sparked by the Freeholders’ decision to renew the contract with the federal Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house immigrant detainees at county jail facilities.

The freeholders adopted the resolution in November with a 6-3 vote, allowing the county’s administration to enter the contract. This, despite statements made in 2018 asserting that the existing contract with ICE would be phased out by the end of 2020.

Why now?

“Senator Menendez and Senator Booker have had two years to work with Hudson County leaders on finding a path forward regarding the ICE contract that would be fair to both county taxpayers and the detainees themselves, and it’s infuriating after all of this time and after the vote has already been taken to parachute in now and try to tell Hudson County government how it should operate,” said Freeholder Chairman Vainieri. “Where have they been?”

Vainieri said that to his knowledge, neither Senator has contacted anyone in county government about this issue, and they offered no prior notification that they planned to speak on it publicly.

According to Vainieri, the senators have had a long time to constructively engage and work with the county and failed to do so. He said their statements are an attempt to shield themselves from criticism from activists who he said do not speak for the majority of Hudson County residents.

“Even more disturbingly, Senator Booker just ran for reelection on the same ticket as the entire Hudson County Freeholder Board — if he felt this way about this issue, why did he wait until after the election to talk about it?,” Vainieri said.

Working with the Biden administration

According to Vainieri, Hudson County is committed to working with the incoming Biden administration and the new leadership the President-elect will appoint at ICE to continue the longstanding partnership that predated the current administration.

“We will take their lead as to the future of the contract and how ICE operates, and we have faith in their ability to accomplish the agency’s mission in a humane way,” Vainieri said. “We have made tremendous investments in our facility and provide a full range of services to detainees, from free legal representation to English as a second language classes and much more.”

Vainieri said that the county will not back out of this agreement without a solid plan ensuring that these detainees will have continued access to the important services currently provided for them by the county, that they will be kept close to their families, and that Hudson County taxpayers will be protected.

“As an elected official, I believe that government functions best when all levels communicate with each other and work toward common goals,” Vainieri said. “I hope that in the future Senator Menendez and Senator Booker will choose to work together with us on important issues instead of relying on press statements that do nothing productive and only inflame the situation even more.”

Menendez and Booker speak out

On Dec. 4, Sens. Menendez and Booker both released statements condemning the county’s decision to extend its contract with ICE.

“No governmental entity in New Jersey should be accepting money from ICE to detain individuals, particularly when the agency continues to pursue inhumane, xenophobic policies designed to terrorize and rip apart immigrant families; it has to stop,” said Menendez, the former mayor of Union City.

“As a former mayor, I understand the tremendous local fiscal and other challenges caused by the pandemic, but I do not believe taking blood money from ICE, to turn our jails into waystations for deportations for nonviolent, non-criminal immigration detainees, is consistent with our values nor is it in the best interests of our communities.”

Menendez said that with the incoming Biden Administration, there is an opportunity for sweeping reforms at ICE to dramatically reduce the number of people in detention. He wants to return ICE to its core national security mission, which he said has been corruptly transformed under President Trump into a deportation force.

“But we cannot wait while peaceful, otherwise law-abiding immigrants are going on hunger strikes because they are being housed in crowded detention centers despite the increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” Menendez said. “The Trump Administration should do the humane thing and release undocumented immigrants from detention who pose no public safety threat to our community; the objective must be to save lives.”

Booker echoed Menendez’s sentiment, adding: “No private or government entity should be contracting with ICE. These arrangements too often incentivize locking up people who pose no risk to the public, and perpetuate dangerous and dehumanizing immigration enforcement tactics.”

He continued: “I have long fought to align our immigration policies with our nation’s core values, including introducing legislation that would end ICE detention contracts and ensure detained immigrants are treated fairly and with dignity.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.