ACLU sues N.J. counties for release of detainees' names
By The Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. The American Civil Liberties Union sued two New Jersey counties, accusing them of violating state law by not releasing names and other information for detainees held in county jails since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The ACLU of New Jersey's lawsuit against Hudson and Passaic counties says they are required to release information on the detainees, even if they are following instructions from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"These are not INS records. These are state records," said Ed Barocas, the ACLU's legal director in New Jersey.
The lawsuit said the jails are violating New Jersey's right-to-know and open-records laws by refusing to make public the detainees' names, the charges against them and when they came into custody.
Passaic County administrator James V. Convery declined to comment on the suit, saying he hadn't reviewed it. Hudson County officials didn't return telephone messages yesterday, and a spokesman for the state attorney general's office said he could not immediately comment.
INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said the agency has had a longstanding policy of withholding detainees' names to protect their privacy. He said the agency has agreements with several hundred jails around the nation who also protect detainees' identities.
"The policy is not related to where an individual is physically or geographically located," Bergeron said.
ACLU-NJ executive director Deborah Jacobs estimated 400 to 700 people are being held in the two counties' jails as part of the government's terrorism probe.
Sohail Mohammed, an attorney who has represented several detainees since the attacks, said he has not always been told what charges his clients face. He said most detainees have no connections to terrorism but are being held on immigration violations.
"If these folks have not been charged with any crime whatsoever related to World Trade Center in the last four months, why is it a problem to release them, to release their names?" Mohammed asked.
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