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Jail to Stop Holding Immigrants

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    PASSAIC TO STOP HOLDING IMMIGRANT DETAINEES AT JAIL County came under fire for treatment of foreigners facing deportation BRIAN DONOHUE, Star-Ledger Staff,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2006
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      County came under fire for treatment of foreigners facing deportation
      BRIAN DONOHUE, Star-Ledger Staff, 12/29/05

      County came under fire for treatment of foreigners facing deportation
      Thursday, December 29, 2005
      Star-Ledger Staff

      Dogged by protests and national controversies over their treatment of
      foreign detainees, Passaic County officials have decided to end the
      20-year-old practice of holding immigrants facing deportation at the
      aging and overcrowded county jail, officials said yesterday.

      A spokesman for U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the
      county has decided to opt out of the contract under which the federal
      government has paid the county to hold an average of 200 detainees on
      any given day.

      Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale determined immigration detainees
      posed a safety threat and were sopping up resources needed in other
      parts of the jail, sheriff's department spokesman Bill Maer said.

      The jail's status as a lightning rod for critics of federal
      immigration policies was also proving a distraction for prison staff.

      "This decision was based on the sheriff's beliefs that the detainees
      were taking too much of the department away from the operation of the
      jail," Maer said in an e- mailed statement. "The sheriff has said many
      times, he will not allow any class of inmate to compromise the safety
      and security of the jail."

      The jail, built to house 800 people, houses about 2,100, most of them
      suspects awaiting trial on criminal charges. The detainees are
      expected to be moved out by the end of January.

      Under the terms of the contract, the county received $77 per day for
      each immigrant detainee, a population that includes foreigners
      awaiting deportation for breaking immigration laws or committing crimes.

      Detainees who have spent time in other immigration lockups, including
      county jails, in Hudson, Middlesex and Monmouth have consistently
      described the conditions inside the Passaic County Jail as the harshest.

      In recent months, Passaic County Sherriff's Department officials have
      bristled at federal policies that prohibited them from using dogs to
      control detainees as well as a drumbeat of criticism from human rights

      "We've been fighting to end this contract since we started," said
      Flavia Ayala, member of the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee.
      "We're getting what we wished for."

      The decision ends a controversial chapter in the life of the jail in
      downtown Paterson.

      When overflows in the state prison system began to abate in the 1990s,
      officials in Paterson and other counties found themselves searching
      for ways to replace the revenue the state paid the counties to house
      state inmates.

      Meanwhile, the federal government was looking for beds to house a
      skyrocketing number of immigrants awaiting deportation under newly
      toughened immigration laws.

      Passaic began holding more immigrants. And several counties,
      including Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth and Sussex, followed Passaic
      County's lead and signed contracts to hold immigration detainees for
      between $60 and $85 per day for each detainee.

      In 2005, the county was paid $6.9 million for housing the detainees.
      Maer said the county jail will be able to make up the shortfall easily
      by taking more prisoners from the state and the U.S. Marshals Service.

      Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Passaic and Hudson
      county jails became the nation's largest holding cells for hundreds of
      Muslim men rounded up in a series of immigration raids. In the
      following months and years, civil rights groups increasingly
      criticized the treatment of detainees, several of whom launched hunger
      strikes to protest their detention.

      Last December, the Passaic jail drew attention again when the U.S.
      Department of Homeland Security banned the use of guard dogs to
      control immigrant detainees after an attack on a Cuban detainee.

      Sheriff Speziale said the dogs were needed to prevent outbreaks of
      violence and to protect guards and said he would curtail, but not end,
      their use.

      The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General
      later launched an investigation into the treatment of detainees at six
      facilities nationwide, including Hudson and Passaic.

      Earlier this month, a group of 15 detainees signed a statement saying
      that a group of five guards had beaten an Egyptian detainee and
      sprayed him with pepper spray.

      While officials in other counties generally describe immigrant
      detainees as an easier population to police than the criminal
      population, Passaic officials have repeatedly asserted that the
      immigrants are harder to control.

      Yesterday, Maer emphasized that many of the detainees were facing
      deportation for committing crimes and had been transferred from Rikers
      Island in New York City.

      "The immigration detainees have shown little respect for the staff of
      the jail and for that matter, the laws of our State," Maer said in the
      e-mailed statement yesterday. "The detainees regularly create
      dangerous situations, and then when an appropriate amount of force is
      administered by officers, they fake allegations of mistreatment."

      Nationwide, the federal government holds about 22,000 immigrant
      detainees on an average day. ICE spokesman Michael Gilhooly said the
      agency would find jail space in other facilities in New York, New
      Jersey and Pennsylvania to house immigrants moved from Passaic. He
      said it was far from unusual for a county to opt out of its contract
      when its needs or goals change.

      "We had a very professional relationship," with Passaic officials,
      Gilhooly said.

      Brian Donohue covers immigration issues. He may be reached at



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