Citing “unsafe and unsanitary conditions” for immigrant detainees at the Essex County Jail, Senator Booker recently joined New Jersey progressives in calling for Essex County to end its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Sadly, ending the contract will not stop ICE from systematically violating the rights of immigrants. Absent federal legislation ending immigration detention nationwide, terminating the contract would simply shift immigration detention to other facilities, likely outside of the NYC Metro and therefore far away from any free legal assistance for detainees. This is no small detail for immigrant detainees in Essex County, many of whom cannot afford an attorney.
In 2014, NYC launched the first program nationwide to provide universal representation to low-income immigrants in removal proceedings in New York courts. In 2018, New Jersey followed suit with its own version. These programs aim to provide free representation to all immigrant detainees who need it, charging clients nothing. Nationwide, immigrant detainees are seldom represented, and they have drastically better outcomes when they are. In concert with stronger local oversight of the jail, these programs represent one way forward – the right to government funded representation for everyone in removal proceedings.