“I felt extremely happy to hear the news,” said Mr. Sierra, 32. He described conditions in the prison as “horrendous” – a 2019 federal inspection report found leaking ceilings, dilapidated beds, rotten meat and moldy bread. the kitchen and a guard’s loaded handgun left in the washroom – and said he was relieved that more families would be spared the ordeal of his wife and child.
But immigrant rights groups and some relatives of former detainees have expressed skepticism. It was clear the decision had been motivated by “dollars and cents,” said Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, rather than a moral imperative not to keep people in what she described as dangerous conditions.
Dariela Moncada Maradiaga, a woman from the Bronx whose brother, Javier Castillo Maradiaga, has been held for over a year at ICE facilities, including Essex Prison, after officers from the Local orders mistakenly handed it over to federal immigration authorities, said moving detainees to another site could lead them away from their families.
“It’s not a victory,” Ms. Moncada said. “It’s another game. In the end, it is the immigrants who lose. “
Across the country, thousands of ICE inmates have been released during the pandemic, both due to security concerns as the virus spreads behind bars and because of the Biden administration’s guidelines limiting people who should be arrested and detained. But lawyers who have filed petitions to free their clients say criminally convicted immigrants – including those who have already served their sentences – are less likely to be released.
For years, immigrant rights groups have pushed county officials – who in New Jersey have significant political power – to end contracts that allow federal immigration officials to hold inmates in jails. County. Groups invaded town halls and inundated officials with appeals and letters.
During the pandemic, which galvanized protests against the rights of incarcerated people, groups gathered around New Jersey jails, holding signs saying “Abolish ICE” and honking cars at socially remote protests. Inside Bergen and Essex prisons, inmates have gone on hunger strikes, protesting the conditions and demanding to be released to avoid the threat of the coronavirus.