Lt. Gov. Shiela Oliver on Wednesday said she wasn’t involved in negotiating a contract between Essex County, where Oliver once worked, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that sees the former paid for incarcerating immigrants awaiting deportation.
“I was not part of that department,” Oliver said after an unrelated press conference in Newark announcing a series of suits seeking recompense for damage to the state’s environment. “So, I had no participation in that.”
Before becoming Lt. governor, Oliver was Essex County’s assistant administrator. She had previously held posts as the director of the county’s Departments of Citizen Services and Economic Development and was an Essex County Freeholder close to two decades ago.
Many of New Jersey’s northern-most counties, including Hudson, Essex and Bergen, have such contracts, the likes of which brought an average of roughly $2.8 million per month to Essex in 2018, according to reporting by WNYC’s Matt Katz.
Hudson county renewed its contract with the federal agency, drawing outcries from activists in the Democrat-controlled county.
Still, these contracts predate the current administration, though increases in the breadth and depth of ICE deportations have made them more lucrative, not to mention more controversial.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has largely been critical of the agency and its new policies under President Donald Trump’s administration.
The state budget passed at the start of July earmarked a little more than $2 million to provide legal assistance to immigrants in the country illegally that are facing deportation, and Murphy’s Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, has sued the federal government seeking to prevent ICE from deporting so-called Dreamers protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy instituted under President Barack Obama.
But, the administration has largely been silent on the counties’ deals with ICE, even while other prominent Democrats in the state, like Sen. Bob Menendez, who faces a serious campaign challenge, speak out against the same.