Releases Not Transfers – Vigil at Bergen Jail

By Interfaith Campaign for Just Closures


NJ currently has four ICE detention contracts. One is with the private, for-profit company CoreCivic to run the Elizabeth Detention Center. The other three are at the Bergen, Essex and Hudson County Jails.

In August Governor Murphy signed a bill that would prevent these facilities from renewing or extending their contracts. The bill that he signed into law also prevents any new ICE contracts from being signed.

While Essex has completely “depopulated” its jail of people held for ICE and Hudson has announced that it will do the same by November 1st, the contracts remain in place. This means that Essex can return to holding people for ICE until its contract runs out in 2026 and Hudson has until 2030 on its contract.

Releases Not Transfers 

Without the support of local elected officials after Essex announced it would depopulate, ICE acted with impunity and transferred as many as 30 people in one day. These transfers happened in the pre-dawn hours. Some of the men who were taken were not given the opportunity to take any of their belongings, including papers that were essential to their immigration cases. At least one man was not even given the opportunity to put on his pants. Families were not notified, neither were lawyers who spent days trying to locate their clients.

People were transferred to several different states including MA, LA, NY, FL and NV. Some reported worse conditions, others reported better. Everyone would rather be free. 

We will continue to demand releases not transfers but we need our elected officials to pressure ICE which has the sole discretion to release people from detention. For those who have already been sent out of state we demand that they be returned to NJ or NY and released to the community and their friends and families.

End the Reliance on a Carceral Economy

Essex, Hudson and Bergen are all looking to replace the revenue from the ICE contracts with the incarceration of other people for money. Hudson County is also in talks with the state to take some of the women from NJ’s only women’s prison, the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, that Governor Murphy has promised to close. In order for there to be justice we must have fewer people in cages. We demand that not only the ICE contracts be cut, but also that they not be replaced with other forms of incarceration.

We Need a National Strategy

NJ is one of five states to pass anti-detention legislation. That is a great start, but we have a long way to go. However, it does provide needed momentum to create a national solution. Urging our elected officials to support HR 536, also called A New Way Forward Act which among other things, would end mandatory detention and decriminalize immigration is a great way for us to begin to work across state lines so that transfers to other ICE facilities become a moot point.

What can you Do?

  1. Raise money for bonds and commissary- ICE often makes release conditional on a hefty bond, in the thousands of dollars for one person. Also when there is the possibility of transfer people need money in what is called a commissary account to call family members and friends. You can raise money for or donate to First Friends of NJ & NY. They maintain both a bond fund and a commissary fund.
  2. Make some calls or better yet, send a letter or postcard to your elected officials calling on them to pressure ICE for releases not transfers and to support HR536- A New Way Forward Act which would significantly reduce the number of people in detention and help end the criminalization of immigrants. Start with Senator Menendez and Senator Booker, but include your local Congressperson too.
    1. If you are not sure who they are or how to contact them here is a simple search tool that will help.
    2.  For a script for a phone call or a postcard that you can print out and send follow this link.
    3. If you happen to live in Bonnie Watson Coleman’s district, be sure to thank her for her leadership. She already supports HR536 and she has spoken out against NJ’s ICE contracts on more than one occasion.
    4. If you live in Bergen, Essex or Hudson Counties you can attend a county commissioners meeting and tell them to cut the ICE contracts and to just generally stop balancing their budgets off the incarceration of people.
  3. Host an on-line meeting of your civic, community or religious community to learn more about ICE detention and how it is embedded in the system of mass incarceration. Contact the Northern NJ Sanctuary CoalitionFirst Friends of NJ & NY or Pax Christi NJ to schedule a speaker.
  4. Follow @NJAIJ, @afscIRP, @PaxChristiNJ, @njpjw, @DWN and @ImmJustice on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates

Additional Resources

We were both held in Cages. Now Our Goal is to Free Others. Op-ed by Nafeesah Goldsmith of NJ Prison Justice Watch and Carlos Sierra of First Friends on why the call for releases and not transfers applies to both the women at Edna Mahan and people in ICE detention.

Hudson Must End Its Contract to Hold ICE Detainees. Pax Christi NJ statement calling for an end to the Hudson County ICE Contract

Detention Watch Network’s Communities Not Cages: A Just Transition from Detention Economies.

Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity- Lessons Learned from the ICE Detention Termination in Contra Costa County

Immigrant Justice Network- Backgrounder on A New Way Forward Act

Press/Media About the Campaign 

Recording of 9/23 Campaign Launch Press Conference

Recording of 9/23 In-Person Vigil

Anti-ICE activists hold vigil outside Menendez’s Jersey City office calling for release of detainees

Forming a new group, N.J.’s immigrant advocates fight for release of migrant detainees

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