ACLU of New Jersey Wins Access to Information on Post-September 11 Detainees

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
March 27, 2002 12:00 am

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NEWARK, NJ– Saying that secret arrests are “odious to a democracy,” a state court here has granted the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey access to records of Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees held in jails in Hudson and Passaic counties.

The ACLU hailed the decision by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Arthur D’Italia, the first such ruling in the nation concerning detainees held since September 11. The national ACLU is awaiting a ruling in a similar case brought in federal court on behalf of detainees nationwide.

“This is an important victory against government secrecy which opens the door for organizations like the ACLU to provide assistance to detained individuals who face deportation,” said Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “The ruling also places us in a better position to assess whether rights are being protected and how we can address allegations of mistreatment.”

The ACLU of New Jersey had sought information on the detainees under a state law that stipulates that the names and the dates of entry of all inmates in county jails, without exception, “shall be open to public inspection.” In contrast, the national ACLU lawsuit, filed on December 5, 2001, was made pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The ACLU of New Jersey lawsuit, filed on November 28, 2001, requested the names of all inmates held at the two county jails. Both counties cited a directive from the INS in their refusal 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.

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

The lawsuit was filed against Hudson and Passaic counties. However, the defendants’ side was argued by a lawyer from the United States Attorney’s office, which successfully intervened in the case.

The federal government has stated its intention to appeal the ruling. In addition, the government requested, and was granted, a 45-day stay so that the information will not be released until all appeals are exhausted.

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

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