June 06, 2024

Reps. Watson Coleman, Kim, Menendez Send Letter to Justice Department Discouraging Support for Private Migrant Prison Contracts

Today, Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Andy Kim, and Rob Menendez sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, following up on a previous letter from August of 2023, expressing serious concern over the Department of Justice’s support for the Elizabeth Detention Center, a privately-owned facility contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain migrants in Newark.

The letter also encourages the Justice Department to refrain from formally supporting a separate ICE contract for another private detention center, Delaney Hall, that a Florida-based company is seeking to operate in New Jersey.

“The Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) has a long documented history of poor conditions including a lack of proper air quality, sanitation violations, overcrowding, inadequate medical and mental health care, and incidents of retaliation and abuse by guards and staff,” the letter states. 

The private owner of the Elizabeth Detention Center, CoreCivic, is currently locked in litigation against NJ Governor Phil Murphy following his enactment of AB 5207, a state law which prohibits private correctional facilities from entering into agreements with federal immigration authorities to detain noncitizens. 

The Department of Justice’s support comes in the form of a formal “statement of interest” in the ongoing case. CoreCivic aims to renew their contract with ICE, while the Florida-based company, GEO Group, is seeking a new agreement to operate the Delaney Hall facility, also located in Newark.

“CoreCivic and GEO Group are the largest private prison operators in the United States and have grown to enjoy over $1 billion in revenue each year,” the letter continues. “When the President issued an executive order eliminating the use of privately operated criminal detention facilities, the administration stated that, ‘privately operated criminal detention facilities consistently underperform Federal facilities with respect to correctional services, programs, and resources’ and ‘privately operated criminal detention facilities do not maintain the same levels of safety and security for people in the Federal criminal justice system or for correctional staff.’ These same disparate and dangerous conditions still persist in privately operated immigration detention centers and the efforts to expand such a system must not be met with support from the federal government.”

The letter is signed by every House Democrat from the New Jersey delegation. 

The full letter can be read here.