By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) - A federal judge in New Jersey on Tuesday struck down the state's ban on the detention of immigrants awaiting deportation, in a legal challenge by private prison operator CoreCivic.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kirsch said the 2021 law prohibiting detention centers operated privately or by the government illegally interferes with the ability of federal agencies to enforce U.S. immigration laws.
The decision bars the state from enforcing the law against CoreCivic. The company's contract to operate a facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey - the only remaining immigrant detention center in the state - expires on Thursday.
"Our sole job has been and continues to be to help the government solve problems in ways it could not do alone," CoreCivic spokesperson Ryan Gustin said.
The New Jersey Attorney General's office said it would appeal the decision, which it said interferes with the state's right to protect its residents.
The ruling deepens a split among U.S. courts over the validity of state bans on immigrant detention.
A U.S. appeals court last year blocked a similar law in California in a lawsuit by GEO Group Inc. But a few weeks earlier, a different appeals court had upheld an Illinois law banning detention of immigrants.
In its lawsuit against New Jersey, CoreCivic said the state's law violated the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the federal government's ability to enter into contracts with private parties.
Kirsch on Tuesday agreed, saying federal immigration law was designed to create a uniform nationwide detention system.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has backed some challenges to the state bans, including the one in California.
Biden, a Democrat, vowed during his 2020 campaign to end private detention of immigrants, but the percentage of immigrants held in private facilities has risen since he took office.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Andy Sullivan)