ACLU of New Jersey Files Lawsuit Seeking Information on Post-September 11 Detainees

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
January 22, 2002 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of New Jersey
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEWARK, NJ — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced the filing of a lawsuit against Hudson and Passaic Counties, seeking disclosure of the names of all Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees held in those counties’ jails.

“”If families, advocates, and journalists can’t even get basic information about the people being held in New Jersey jails, how can the public assess whether rights are being protected, and how can we address allegations of mistreatment?”” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “”Accountable government is a foundation of our democracy.””

New Jersey law (N.J.S.A. 30:8-16) requires that the names and the dates of entry of all inmates in county jails “”shall be open to public inspection.”” Further, the ACLU is entitled to the information under the state’s Open Public Records law, which establishes that all records which are required by law to be made, maintained or kept by any public official are deemed to be public records.

Just two weeks ago the state legislature passed a bill that significantly expands and improves public access to government records in New Jersey. “Our elected representatives have recognized the essential need for public access to information, but at the same time we have county governments refusing to release records even though they are required by law to do so,”” said Jacobs. The change in the public records law does not affect the ACLU’s claims, because current law already mandates the release of the records the ACLU seeks.

“”New Jersey law helps to ensure that the government does not act behind the public’s back,”” said Ron Chen, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of New Jersey. “”We are asking for information about people who have not been charged with any crime or shown to be connected to terrorism. We just want to make sure that these people have access to legal help to secure their basic due process rights.””

On November 28, 2001, the ACLU requested the names of all inmates held at the two county jails. Both counties were willing to disclose the names of county inmates but refused to disclose the names of those inmates confined pursuant to an agreement between the jails and the INS. Passaic County refused the request on December 10, 2001, and Hudson County on January 11, 2002. In addition to the names of detainees, the ACLU’s request asked for their dates of entry, their ages and nationalities.

The national ACLU has also filed a request for the names of immigration detainees held nationwide. While the national ACLU lawsuit was made pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, the New Jersey case relies solely on state law.

In the federal case, the ACLU received a response from the government on Jan. 11 that it deemed “”inadequate and incomplete.”” They now seek further information concerning the completeness and accuracy of that information.

Over the past month, the ACLU of New Jersey has coordinated statewide efforts to attempt to ensure that all detainees who desire legal representation have it afforded to them. New Jersey rights advocates have experienced frustration at the lack of information available about the detainees, including reports from the federal government that seem inconsistent with estimates from observers who have visited the Passaic and Hudson County Jails.

The lead attorney on the case is Ronald K. Chen of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic. A copy of the brief is available online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/hudson_county.pdf

For more information about the ACLU’s fight to stop the war on terrorism’s growing infringement on our civil liberties, go to http://archive.aclu.org/safeandfree/index.html

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