ICE Detainees at Bergen County Jail Draw Activists’ Attention

HACKENSACK — A handful of immigration advocates showed up at the Bergen County sheriff’s annual budget hearing Tuesday afternoon to question officials about the millions of dollars the county makes by housing federal immigration detainees at its South River Street jail. 

But there were no answers at the two-hour hearing, which was open to the public but did not include an opportunity for the audience to speak. The advocates would have to wait for the next Bergen County Freeholder Board meeting if they wanted to make a statement, officials told them. 

It was a bit of a letdown for Lawrence White, chairman of the Bergen County Immigration Strategy Group. But he’s already making plans for the board’s April 17 meeting, where he said the group will demand that the county spend every dollar it takes in from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enhance detainee services. 

“We will definitely have a strong presence there,” White said Tuesday.

The sheriff’s budget hearing normally attracts little attention. The county Freeholder Board holds about 20 such meetings every spring as it performs a line-by-line review of the county executive’s proposed budget, which includes the Sheriff’s Office. But this year is different, because Sheriff Anthony Cureton’s budget includes about $16 million in anticipated revenue from ICE — compensation for holding hundreds of immigration detainees who are awaiting various hearings.

The contract has been in place for nearly two decades. But the amount of money the county receives has risen as the Trump administration pursues its zero-tolerance immigration policy, which criminally prosecutes anyone caught crossing the border illegally. This has put the county’s elected officials, all of whom are Democrats, in the peculiar spot of personally disagreeing with immigration policies that are flooding county coffers with extra cash. 

As of Monday, the jail held 370 federal detainees. The county charges ICE a $110 per-bed, per-night rate.  

By Steve Janoski for NORTHJERSEY.COM

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