LETTER: County program with ICE enforces Trump’s ‘anti-immigrant’ orders

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In a letter to the editor, Chia-Chia Wang says that despite what Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise says, the county program with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement enforces President Trump’s “anti-immigrant executive orders.”Tom DeGise

Dear editor,

In last week’s State of the County address, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise attempted to defend his decision in July of 2016 to renew the County’s 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In this morally suspect and poorly conceived attempt, DeGise made so many factually incorrect assertions that the only conclusion is that he either deliberately lied or fundamentally misunderstands the legal implications of the 287(g) agreement he authorized.

The bottom line is that 287(g) agreements deputize local law enforcement to act as ICE officers and participate in the processing and deportation of Hudson County’s immigrant communities.

These agreements have nothing to do with setting standards or priorities for who to target.  DeGise’s claim that the County’s 287(g) agreement “narrow the category of individuals who may be flagged for an ICE detainer to only those who pose a meaningful threat to public safety” is patently false.

In reality, the County’s 287(g) agreement now requires the County to carry out Trump’s Executive Order 13768, targeting nearly all immigrants, including those whom have been merely charged but not convicted of a crime, and those whom ICE merely suspects of criminal activity.

The term “287(g)” refers to Section 287(g) of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which allows, but does not require, state or local governments to enter into a contract with ICE pursuant to which local law enforcement officers perform the function of immigration officers at the expense of the state or local government.

Hudson County’s 287(g) agreement with ICE deputizes County Corrections Officers at the County Jail to function as ICE officers – to interrogate, charge, and detain any immigrant detained at the jail – all at the expense of Hudson County taxpayers.

In this remark, Hudson County is an anti-immigrant outlier in New Jersey; only two of New Jersey’s twenty other counties – Salem and Monmouth – also have 287(g) agreements.

Neither Section 287(g) of the INA nor the text of Hudson’s 287(g) agreement set any standards for prioritizing which individuals to target.

Instead, these priorities are set by the Executive Branch – first Secure Communities, then the Priorities Enforcement Program (PEP), and now Trump’s EO 13768.

DeGise claimed that Hudson’s 287(g) agreement operates under PEP standards set by President Obama, but he failed to mention that Trump’s EO 13768 abolished PEP and replaced it with a set of priorities that targets almost everyone, including immigrants who have been merely charged but not convicted of a crime, and those whom have not been charged with any crime but ICE merely suspects of having committed a crime.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a memo to implement EO 13768 on February 17, which lists these priorities and states, that DHS “no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

The County’s 287(g) agreement explicitly states that the Hudson County Department of Corrections “shall follow ICE’s civil immigration enforcement priorities,” which means that Hudson County is now legally obligated to carry out Trump’s Executive Order.

Therefore, when DeGise falsely claimed that Hudson has the right under law to “continue to operate 287(g) under the standard we signed on for — the Obama standard,” he was either deliberately lying or has no idea how 287(g) works.

Hudson County Corrections Officers are now legally bound, deputized agents of the Trump Administration’s “deportation force.”

So why did DeGise defend this immoral, heartless, and indefensible program?  Perhaps because Hudson County pairs its 287(g) agreement with a contract with ICE by which ICE pays the County to detain immigrants in the county jail.

The County profits financially, when, rather than being released, immigrants whose criminal charges are dismissed or otherwise resolved continue to be held on immigration matters.

The County’s 2016 budget reveals that in Fiscal Year 2015 the County received $20.5 million from the Federal Government for incarcerating immigrant detainees. Over the past year, the number of immigrant detainees has increased from about 450 to about 618.

With the increase in empty beds because of all the pretrial criminal defendants who have been released under the State’s new pretrial release law, it seems that Hudson County is in a race to fill those beds with immigrant detainees to collect federal cash.

Yet DeGise mentioned none of this in his address.

In short, DeGise:

  • Falsely claimed that the reach of 287(g) is limited to a “tiny number of very dangerous individuals”;
  • Falsely claimed that the priority enforcement standards set by President Obama are still in effect;
  • Falsely claimed that Hudson County has the right to continue to operate 287(g) under the Obama standards; and
  • Failed to disclose that 287(g) is a tool to funnel immigrants into detention beds to fill the County’s purse.

As noted by advocates in a March 2016 Letter to the Editor, 287(g) “denies immigrants due process rights, funnels them into detention and deportation and tears apart vulnerable families.”

Hudson County residents demand that the County immediately end 287(g) and its immigrant detention contract with ICE because under it our County is legally obligated to carry out the racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies of Donald Trump.

Chia-Chia Wang

American Friends Services Committee