Concerns from advocates and state Democrats come after a 2023 ruling that allowed a private immigrant jail in New Jersey to remain open. Milad Fakurian/Unsplash.

NEW YORK CITY - Following a 2023 ruling that allowed a private immigrant jail in New Jersey to remain open, lawmakers and advocates alike are urging the federal judges to prevent another detention center from opening in the state.

The dispute comes after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law in 2021 that bars public and private entities from entering into contracts to house immigrant detainees. Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Kirsch declared the law partially unconstitutional, saying the state cannot prevent the federal government from contracting with a private entity to jail immigrants, New Jersey Monitor reports.

That ruling allowed private firm CoreCivic to continue operating its immigrant jail in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Later, in April of this year, another company, GEO Group, sued Murphy and Attorney General Matt Platkin, arguing the 2021 law was preventing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from signing a contract with the company to jail immigrants at Delaney Hall, a facility it owns near Essex's County's Jail, according to New Jersey Monitor.

As the recent lawsuit is set to go through Kirsch once again, immigration advocates worry there is little they can do to prevent another private immigrant jail from being established in the Garden State.

"My concern is that New Jersey may become a private prison-only immigration detention state, and that's really terrifying because all immigration detention is terrible, but private prisons in particular," said Katy Sastre, director of First Friends of New Jersey and New York.

Similarly, Dolly Hernandez, executive director of immigrant rights advocacy organization Casa Freehold, said she's troubled by a recent letter from the state Attorney General's Office to the federal judge that could make it easier for the new jail to open.

"It's time to stop dehumanizing people. We are not money makers," she said.

Earlier this month, New Jersey Democrats joined the initiative, asking federal justice officials in separate letters to refrain from supporting the private firm from opening the private jail in Newark. Sen. Cory Booker, and the state's eight House Democrats cited President Biden's prior comments criticizing private prisons.

Biden has said "no business should profit from the suffering of desperate people fleeing violence" and has condemned private prisons for not maintaining "the same levels of safety and security for people in the Federal criminal justice system or for correctional staff," according to New Jersey Monitor.

"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 House Democrats' letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland reads.

An ICE spokesman told New Jersey Monitor there's no contract with GEO Group to house immigrants at Delaney Hall and declined to comment on pending contract negotiations. Currently, 243 detainees are housed at CoreCivic's Elizabeth Detention Center, he said.

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