TRENTON – An Assembly committee on Wednesday plans to take up a bill already endorsed by a Senate panel that would prohibit public or private prisons in New Jersey from entering agreements with the federal government to detain immigrants facing deportation.

Many of the entities that have contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties and a private detention center in Elizabeth – are already making moves to end those agreements.

But activists say the enactment of S3361/A5207 is necessary because it would also ensure that ICE doesn’t expand in the state. The agency last fall published a request for information seeking locations for up to 1,800 more detention beds in the New Jersey and New York region.

“New Jersey can set a national precedent, just as our neighboring state New York has also introduced companion legislation to end detention and ban these contracts there,” said Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

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Sarah Fajardo, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said many noncitizen New Jerseyans – and their children and family members who are citizens – live in fear of ICE.

“These fears are only exaggerated by the state’s willingness to allow state and local entities and private corrections companies to profit off of jailing immigrants,” Fajardo said.

Fajardo said there have been plenty of reports by government agencies and media outlets about the dangers in New Jersey detention facilities, such as living conditions, health care, violence and isolated confinement. She said ICE also enforces more intensely in places where there is local bed capacity.

“Any expansion of immigration detention capacity in New Jersey poses a clear risk to New Jersey’s communities,” Fajardo said.

Torres said that when the bill has been considered in Trenton in the past, lawmakers opted to defer action because Joe Biden was soon to be inaugurated. Torres said the new administration hasn’t acted quickly or affirmatively to address immigration, so now’s the time to act.

“The longer that New Jersey awaits on Biden, the Biden administration, the more people are put in harm’s way,” Torres said.

The bill was advanced by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee in a 4-2 party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. It is now before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

“Allowing ICE to house detainees in New Jersey jails is a tacit approval of an immigration policy that tears apart families, destabilizes communities and even deports parents of United States citizens,” said Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, a primary sponsor of the bill.

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday.

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