Hard choices on ICE detainees
Aug 26, 2018 | 735 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Even as the Hudson County Board of Freeholders heard public remarks from activist groups seeking to force the county to cancel its $10 million, 10-year contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement – in which the county would earn the money for holding immigrant detainees in the county jail -- Mayor Steven Fulop Tweeted his own criticism, followed by a Jersey City Council resolution passed on Aug. 15 demanding the county rescind the contract that it approved in July.

A similar resolution had already been passed by the Hoboken City Council, encouraging canceling the contract.

These moves suggest that the contract will likely be ammunition for those in next June’s Democratic primary who hope to unseat Tom DeGise as county executive.

A number of progressive politicians and groups are applying pressure because they feel it is hypocritical for the most diverse county in America to be cooperating with federal authorities by holding immigration detainees. Union City and Jersey City have openly declared themselves sanctuary cities, meaning they have instructed their employees, police, and others not to help identify possible targets of ICE. Hoboken has defined itself as “a welcoming city,” which falls on the same side of the immigrant question.

Political patronage or a kind heart?

Some Hudson County officials argue that to do away with the contract would mean detainees may be relocated to other less well-kept facilities, far from their families, friends, legal advisors, and support groups.

More astute observers are quick to note that the issue is really about dollars and cents. Changes in state laws regarding bail and other reforms have reduced the criminal jail population in the Hudson County Correctional Facility to levels that could force the county to downsize and cut staff. By having detainees at the jail, the county maintains a higher population, justifying the number of jobs and other operations the jail provides.

Many of these jobs are seen as patronage jobs, given to current or potential political supporters of state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who also appears to have a say in who gets hired at various other county institutions, such as the county schools and the sheriff’s department.

Control of these jobs was partly at the heart of the battle for chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) earlier this year, in which Tom DeGise’s daughter, Amy DeGise, beat State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack.

Although Amy is seen as a progressive, the chair battle was old fashioned arm-twisting politics as usual, with the most ruthless of the political old guard trying to fend off a move by Fulop, Stack, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, and West New York Mayor Felix Roque to gain control of those jobs.

Political backlash

Ironically for a progressive, Amy DeGise finds herself on the wrong side of a mounting political battle in which many of the county’s progressives will likely side with Fulop, Stack, and Bhalla in next year’s move to unseat her father in the Democratic primary.

Some of this progressive opposition to DeGise is opportunistic, seeking to use a very powerful issue against him. But many of the politicians and others speaking out against the county ICE contract are true believers, sincerely viewing the contract as a deal made with the devil. And not all of those who defend the contract are defending political patronage. Some of the freeholders who voted in July for the contract really apparently believe detainees will be better off kept closer to home.

Larry Wainstein, arch rival of Sacco, has already issued a letter to freeholder Chairman Anthony Vainieri, a strong Sacco supporter, urging him to cancel the contract. Wainstein ran against Sacco in 2015 and is rumored to be planning a run again next year. Stack and Fulop may throw support Wainstein’s way as part of the countywide political war.

West New York Mayor Felix Roque is also rumored to be running for reelection next year. His support for Stack has damaged him politically in West New York, and a number of people are rumored to be planning to run against him next year. But this could be a real dogfight, since Sacco may back one candidate and Rep. Albio Sires, another.

Sires, a former West New York mayor and Assembly speaker, appears poised to take back control of his hometown after having given it up to Sal Vega more than a decade ago. Showing just how far Roque has fallen from grace, Sires and Vega have resolved their political feud recently and so are poised to work together.

Bhalla also has a critical election date coming up in 2019 in Hoboken, not for his own reelection, but for control of the City Council. All six ward seats are up for reelection – and currently, he can only count on two or three council votes. Many of his most ardent political council opponents are up, and he could gain control if he successfully gets candidates to unseat them.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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