In the past decade, the Essex County freeholders have taken well over $100 million from ICE to hold immigrant detainees in miserable conditions at the Essex County jail. One might expect them to have learned something along the way about their lucrative contract with ICE, which has been the top expressed concern of their constituents for years now. But when president Brendan Gill introduced a resolution at last week’s freeholders meeting calling on ICE to release detainees, their deliberate ignorance showed through. Suddenly, freeholder Carlos Pomares wanted more information, and freeholder Robert Mercado wanted more time. Freeholder Patricia Sebold worried about letting out murderers and criminals, an egregious misunderstanding because ICE detention is civil detention—if one has committed murder, one serves a criminal sentence in a jail or prison. Surely she knows this.
There is no more time. So why the reluctance to support a necessary and urgent humanitarian resolution, as COVID-19 continues to endanger the lives of detainees and jail inmates? Here’s one hypothesis: this is what happens to your moral compass when you fund an already-wealthy county through immigrant detention, as Essex, Hudson, and Bergen counties all do. The freeholders need to stop making excuses, and stop collaborating with Trump’s attacks on our immigrant communities.