Sen. Bob and Rep. Rob Menendez are publicly and vehemently disagreeing with the leader of their own party over the Biden Administration’s immigration policy.
The issue which between the two Hudson County lawmakers and President Joe Biden is whether the immigration detention center located in Elizabeth should be shut down. Biden is siding with private prison operators tasked with running the facility that claims closing the last ICE detention center within the Garden State would be “catastrophic.”
Straining the relationship further between Sen. Menendez and the White House, was a recent legal filing issued by Biden’s Department of Justice claiming that New Jersey’s 2021 law banning all immigration detention contracts is unconstitutional, and that closing the Elizabeth detention facility would negatively impact the federal government’s ability to effectively control the influx of migrants entering the United States.
New Jersey Law
According to Robert Guadian, deputy assistant director for field operations at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “the lack of detention resources in New Jersey has already had a severe impact on national security, public safety and border security operations in a critical area of the nation. And if the Elizabeth facility is forced to close due to AB 5207, those severe impacts will become catastrophic.”
AB 5207 is the bill Gov. Phil Murphy in August 2021 signed into law, which in effect ended the long-standing contracts between ICE and three of the detention facilities, including Essex, Hudson and Bergen counties.
Closing Elizabeth Facility
This leaves only the Elizabeth Detention Center still operating within the Garden State. The facility, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, can house up to 300 detainees—with just over half that amount presently confined to the facility.
The 69-year-old lawmaker, one of Biden’s harshest Democratic critics when it comes to immigration policies, has long raised concerns regarding the Elizabeth detention facility, liking it to a prison. The facility has a troubled history, as detainees rioted in the 1990s because of the harsh conditions and physical abuse suffered at the hands of guards there.
“I think these private detention facilities are fundamentally wrong. I don’t think they uphold high standards. When we detain someone by the power of the federal government … we are also responsible for that human being, and the (Elizabeth) detention facility has a horrible record over time,” said Sen. Menendez.
CoreCivic, the private security firm which runs the Elizabeth facility, along with the Biden Administration is challenging New Jersey’s law banning both private and public organizations from contracting with ICE concerning the safe housing and caring of detained migrants.
The company argues that the law is unconstitutional and is asking a judge to prevent the state from enforcing it. The federal filing, known as a “statement of interest.” is asking the court to issue a permanent injunction in favor of CoreCivic, and in support of the Biden Administration
According to the lawsuit, attorneys for the Department of Justice claim that the Elizabeth facility is “mission critical” because of its proximity to Newark and JFK airports, which offer regular direct flights out of the U.S. and are “crucial” for removals, the filing says. Additional, both claim shutting down the center would lead to the possible release of “dangerous non-citizens.”
Before New Jersey senior senator weighed in, Rep. Rob Menendez (D-08) said an immediate closing of the facility called for in a district where 44% of residents are foreign-born
“I believe CoreCivic’s continued operation of the privately run Elizabeth Detention Center is severely incompatible with the values and wishes of our communities,” said Rep. Menendez. “Further, I am deeply concerned about the inhumane conditions and cases of neglect and abuse against immigrants in this facility. As a country, we cannot accept an immigration system that fails to live up to our American values.”
The freshman Congressman would go on to chide CoreCivic chosening “to pursue litigation to protect their profits made from detaining immigrants“ instead of complying with legislation banning new contracts with ICE detention facilities.
“For these reasons, and so many more, CoreCivic must permanently close the Elizabeth Detention Center,” he said.