NJ’s ban on immigrant detention centers challenged in fiery lawsuit as $100M contract hangs in balance (2024)

A Florida company that wants to open a new immigrant detention center in Newark is suing to overturn New Jersey’s ban on the facilities — claiming the policy violates the Constitution.

The GEO Group said in its lawsuit that the state ban is torpedoing its plans for Delaney Hall, a privately-run, 1,196-bed facility that has variously held county, state and federal detainees over the last 25 years.

That could cost GEO a lot of money — namely, a contract with US Immigration and Customs and Enforcement worth more than $100 million, the lawsuit said.


The group’s attorneys claim that the state had no right to pass the law because it violates the Constitution’s supremacy clause — which says federal law generally takes precedence over any state laws that contradict it.

“[The law] undermines and blocks implementation and enforcement of congressionally funded and approved immigration law … within the State of New Jersey,” the suit said.

“[The law] is therefore in conflict with federal immigration law, interferes with the purpose behind federal immigration law, presents a substantial obstacle to the purposes of Congress in enacting federal immigration law and, in intruding into federal immigration law, improperly enters into an area where Congress has manifested its intent to occupy the entire field.”

Garden State Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Matthew Platkin have been named as defendants in the litigation, filed April 15 in Trenton federal court.

Murphy’s office did not respond to a request for comment, while representatives for both ICE and the attorney general declined to comment.

New Jersey has a complicated history with immigrant detention centers, which made Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties tens of millions of dollars before Murphy signed the August 2021 ban, according to the NJ Monitor.


For several years before that, immigration advocates had pilloried the Democrat-run counties for decrying conservative immigration policies while, at the same time, making money off the backs of those they imprisoned.

A federal judge declared the law partly unconstitutional last year after another private firm, CoreCivic, challenged it on similar grounds, the lawsuit said.

The same judge who heard that case — District Court Judge Robert Kirsch — will hear GEO’s appeal.

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“GEO seeks the same relief in this lawsuit,” the attorneys wrote.

GEO currently contracts with ICE to run more than 20 different facilities throughout the United States, with a total capacity of about 19,000 beds, the suit said.

But the for-profit prison company has been hit with many allegations of abuse over the years, according to media reports.

Last August, protesters in San Francisco demanded an end to what they called “ongoing abuse of ICE detainees,” according to CBS News.


“Detainees awaiting deportation proceedings have reported experiencing violence, medical neglect, sexual abuse, malnourishment and generally poor living conditions,” CBS said. “According to detained individuals, when they report their concerns with ICE, they are ignored and often face retaliation.”

Other complaints and lawsuits against the company have struck similar chords.

GEO denied all the allegations, saying in a statement that every ICE processing center provides “around-the-clock access to medical care” of all types.

It also gives detainees access to legal and religious services, recreational activities and three “high-quality daily meals, based on menus that are approved by ICE and by a registered dietician,” according to a spokesperson.

“We take our role as a service provider to the federal government with the utmost seriousness and strive to treat all those entrusted to our care with dignity and respect,” the statement said. “GEO has a longstanding commitment to respecting the human rights of the individuals in our care and to ethical practices in all aspects of our services.”

In New Jersey, GEO already owns Delaney Hall, an intimidating jail fringed with fences and barbed wire that’s perched on a narrow strip of land between the New Jersey Turnpike and the waters of Newark Bay.

From 2011 to 2017, the complex held up to 450 immigration detainees — including people from Texas, Louisiana and elsewhere.

Last May, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a request for information seeking to identify possible detention sites to house undocumented immigrants, under the control of ICE’s Newark field office.

GEO proposed using Delaney, which it says it has spent millions upgrading to conform to federal standards.

“GEO has a realistic chance to be awarded a contract by ICE for the provision of immigration detention services at the Delaney Hall Facility,” the attorneys wrote. “But for the effect of [the law].”

NJ’s ban on immigrant detention centers challenged in fiery lawsuit as $100M contract hangs in balance (2024)


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