A highly unusual turn of events has just occurred in the politics of Essex County, federal immigration detention plans, the commercial world of Community Education Centers (CEC), pay-to-play activities, and suspect contracting procedures. As the Star-Ledger reported on Thursday, Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) announced it had signed a new five year, $50 million contract with Essex County that would triple the number of federal immigration detainees being held in the county jail system. The new contract was designed to give ICE access to 800 beds at the county’s Newark jail and up to 450 beds at adjacent Delaney Hall. Education and Health Centers of America (EHCA), a non-profit shell agency, subcontracts its work to for-profit CEC which owns and operates Delaney Hall. EHCA was the winner and sole bidder in an accelerated, flawed county bidding process for the 450-bed portion of the ICE agreement.
As the N.Y. Times reports, County Executive Joe DiVicenzo yesterday announced he had signed the agreement with federal authorities to house the 1,250 immigrants. However, in a surprising turn around, DiVicenzo added that the county would not accept EHCA/CEC’s bid and would put out another request for bids in the fall. Such must have been an embarrassment for Essex’s powerful County Exec. In addition, John Clancy who is the Board Chair of both CEC and EHCA and Legal Director Bill Palatucci, a close Christie confidante who works for both agencies, must have been dealt a surprising blow as CEC had already started its advertising job search to fill positions at Delaney Hall. Furthermore, PolitickerNJ recently reported CEC employees donated $6,600 to DiVincenzo in 2006, and $25,000 overall in Essex County. In the four years since, the company’s employees have donated $22,450 into Essex coffers. PolitickerNJ further reported that CEC/EHCA “has benefited from nearly $500 million in state and county contracts over the years, and has recently come under intense scrutiny – not only by lawmakers – but also by the state comptroller.”
Beyond the issue of a county using flawed bidding and granting an award to a politically connected organization which makes substantial contributions to local campaigns, is the broader concern of fair and humane treatment for immigration detainees. “Essex County has shown that profits come before human rights,” said Karina Wilkinson, a co-founder of the Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights and a frequent critic of Essex County’s detention policies. Immigration advocates have long expressed concern about ICE, the Essex County Jail and CEC detention procedures.