Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, released "several hundred…noncriminal or low-risk" detainees across the country, in a move that has caused several to question the legality of detaining these and other immigrants in correctional facilities across America. New Jersey immigration attorneys report that almost 50 detainees were released from the Hudson and Bergen county jails alone, and immigrant advocate groups estimate that another 2,300 immigrants are held in seven other facilities in the state.
Advocates for immigration reform and rights are dismayed that ICE's sudden release measures only extended to a small portion of those being detained, and have asked for an explanation. "These people were not a risk to anyone. That's why they're releasing them—that's the bottom line," said Alix Nguefack, an activist with the American Friends Service Committee. Nguefack and others have speculated that ICE released the immigrants because the organization had no legal reason to hold them. ICE and law enforcement officials often place illegal immigrants in corrections facilities to await deportation hearings, or upon discovering that a person is not a U.S. citizen.
The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, has lobbied to have illegal immigrants freed from detention as they await deportation hearings. Using the stories of detained immigrants such as Werner Arreaga Garcia, a 29-year-old New York man who has been held in the Hudson County jail after he was arrested making an illegal U-turn, to hopefully influence opinion. Federal immigration agents determined that Garcia, who is from Guatemala, is not a U.S. citizen, and kept him in custody. Garcia's wife, an American citizen, said that she and Garcia have lived in Queens for eight years, where her husband works as a mechanic. His detainment has put a strain on both of them as they hope for Garcia's release.
But even if ICE grants release for Garcia and the other illegal immigrants in holding cells across the country, it is not guaranteed that they can remain in the United States. Deportation remains a very real threat, and many of those people who were recently released still have pending removal proceedings. Detention only adds fear and constricts immigrants from seeking legal advice from New Jersey immigration lawyers, and enlisting the help of their family.
ICE said in a statement that the recent release was a result of an impending sequester, during which immigration sponsors and activists lobby to advance the cause of reform. Conversely, other law enforcement officials in New Jersey say that ICE orders the release of immigrants on a fluctuating basis, that may or may not have to do with national events such as the sequester. Whatever the reason, the released immigrants are a sign of hope for these advocates, who anticipate that ICE will be compelled to let others go free as well.
The immigration attorneys at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA offer legal counsel to anyone who has detained relatives or family members in New Jersey.