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New Jersey Law Banning ICE Jails Declared “Unconstitutional” by Federal Judge

In a decision that has caused legal and political uproar, federal Judge Robert Kirsch has ruled that New Jersey’s law banning private jails for immigrants is “unconstitutional.” This decision is based on the argument that the federal government has “broad and undoubted power” over immigration and alien status, as established by the U.S. Constitution.

Background of the Act

In August 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed AB 5207 into law. This legislation was intended to prohibit the renewal, expansion, or activation of new agreements with privately operated ICE detention centers. These centers are places where immigrants are detained while awaiting their court hearings and face the possibility of deportation. With the implementation of this law, New Jersey became the fifth state to limit or prohibit such contracts. At the time, the federal government was paying approximately $120 per day for each immigrant detained in an ICE jail.

Arguments of the Opinion.

Judge Kirsch, in his 41-page opinion, supported the arguments presented by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and CoreCivic, a private prison operator. The judge cited the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which prohibits states from nullifying federal statutes. Kirsch argued that if New Jersey has objections to how the federal government manages detentions, it should voice its concerns through elected representatives and federal elections.

The judge also noted that the New Jersey law, if implemented, would close the last facility in the state to which ICE has access. This action would be a direct blow to the immigration policy of the federal government, which is solely responsible for enforcing civil immigration laws.

Reactions to the Decision

Judge Kirsch’s decision was not well received by all. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) criticized the ruling, arguing that it favors CoreCivic, a private prison corporation. They pointed out that the decision was made just before CoreCivic’s contract with ICE to operate the Elizabeth Detention Center expired.

Araceli Argueta, AFSC’s director of organizing and advocacy, mentioned that CoreCivic, with a history of abuse, earned $552 million in 2021 from contracts with ICE. Serges Demefack, coordinator of AFSC’s Black Immigrant Justice Project, called the decision a “devastating setback” for immigrant communities.

For its part, ICE has assured that conditions in its detention centers have improved since the Donald Trump administration. They stated that they are committed to ensuring safe and humane environments for detainees and have closed or downsized several facilities since January 2021.

Judge Kirsch’s decision reignites the debate over the role of states in immigration policy and the tension between state and federal law. While some see the decision as a defense of federal authority, others see it as a setback for immigrant rights. What is certain is that this issue will continue to be of great relevance in the U.S. political and legal landscape. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)