County Officials Shutting ICE Out Of Local Jails Activists on the left are persuading local governments to end jail contracts with ICE, hoping to force the Trump administration to loosen its "zero tolerance" policy.
NPR logo

County Officials Shutting ICE Out Of Local Jails

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/657238852/657238853" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
County Officials Shutting ICE Out Of Local Jails

County Officials Shutting ICE Out Of Local Jails

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/657238852/657238853" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Abolish ICE has been a rallying cry for some on the left. The call gained traction due to President Trump's hardline immigration policies, including separating migrant children from their parents at the border and deporting immigrants who are in the country illegally but who don't have a criminal record. But Abolish ICE doesn't have any real support among key players, certainly not in the administration. And Democratic leaders are wary, ducking the issue in debates and declining to take it up in Congress. And yet progressive activists have won a number of victories convincing local governments to stop detaining immigrants in their jails for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Matt Katz from member station WNYC reports.

MATT KATZ, BYLINE: In Hudson County, N.J., a routine contract renewal turned into a political firestorm.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: ICE out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What do we want?

KATZ: The issue is a deal the county has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency pays the county to house immigrants picked up by federal authorities. More than half of the inmates at the Hudson County jail are ICE detainees. Activists urged local legislators to pull out of the contract last week. One of them, Carl Schwartz (ph), said the county shouldn't profit from President Trump's immigration crackdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARL SCHWARTZ: We come to you tonight because you do have power. And it may not be a lot. It may be for one county in one state over one detention center. But if we can get this thing shut down here in Hudson County, we can show what we really stand for in North Jersey.

KATZ: After nearly five tense hours, Hudson County voted to end the ICE contract but not until 2020 - that way the county would have time to replace the tens of millions of dollars it gets from ICE. The all-Democratic Board of Freeholders, as the county legislators in New Jersey are known, assured residents that action would be taken. Here's Anthony Romano.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY ROMANO: There's a strong possibility we will be phased out of this sooner, so it's not just rhetoric.

KATZ: Across the country, local officials are responding to anti-ICE activism. In California, Contra Costa County, Sacramento County and the city of Santa Ana have pulled out of their contracts with ICE. In Williamson County, Texas, a detention center will no longer hold immigrants. And in Atlanta, the mayor issued an executive order to stop accepting ICE detainees. But all of this is not happening without pushback.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YVONNE BALCER: Your job is to represent the taxpayers of Hudson County, not to represent a social group. That's what your job is.

KATZ: Yvonne Balcer (ph), a lifelong resident of Hudson County, accused officials of putting immigrants ahead of U.S. citizens. She says the ICE money helps to keep her taxes low. Some immigrant advocates also oppose ending the ICE contract. They warned of unintended consequences. Ryan Brewer represents immigrants at the jail pro bono.

RYAN BREWER: Families and lawyers and their community are here. And the separation from those resources is critical to enabling detainees to actually win their cases and remain permanently in the United States or obtain release on bond.

KATZ: Brewer says the detainees should be allowed to stay in New Jersey near their families and lawyers. Unlike in other parts of the country, immigrants jailed in Hudson County are eligible for free legal representation. The Freeholders did agree to try to improve conditions for immigrants before the end of the contract. The jail has been plagued by problems - suicides, poor medical care, bad food. Several former detainees testified at the hearing last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEISVEL GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KATZ: Leisvel Gonzalez (ph), a 25-year-old from Cuba, said he was raped twice by other detainees. The jail director, who was also at the meeting, said he would investigate. Gonzalez said that's not enough. He urged the legislators to end the ICE contract now. For NPR News, I'm Matt Katz.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.