This past month has seen an increase in the intensity and scope of the movement to abolish ICE. Solidarity between New Jersey and New York has strengthened and it has become clear that many on both sides of the river now support the demand to Abolish ICE and to free all those detained by ICE, specifically in the four detention facilities in North Jersey, i.e. Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union County.
Perhaps the most evident indication of this increase in the broad spread opposition to any collaboration with ICE was a marathon Hudson County Freeholder meeting about 12 hours in duration- at least nine of which was devoted to public comment. Of the approximately 100 people who spoke up, all opposed the Hudson County Freeholders extending their contract with ICE. With blatant disregard for the concerns of the public, the Freeholders voted to extend the contract with ICE for another 10 years. Two years ago, the Freeholders had delayed a vote saying that the intervening two years could be used to find a “path to exit.” This just meant finding alternative sources of income to replace the income lost from ceasing to incarcerate Black and Brown bodies for ICE. Sadly, their idea of a path to exit was just replacing it with another contract to incarcerate Black and Brown bodies. This contract was to be with Mercer County which had plans to shut down its jail and send everyone 70 miles north to the Hudson County Jail. This contract, however, has since stalled due to a court challenge.
Hudson County makes $120 per day, per person held by ICE. With approximately 90 people currently held by ICE that becomes approximately $4 million in revenue anticipated in 2021.
This so enraged the community that it sparked many demonstrations in Hudson County calling for canceling the contract. County Executive Tom DeGise has the power, should he choose to use it, of not accepting the 6-3 vote of the Freeholders and instead cutting the contract, as the many speakers demanded.
During that same time period, 9 people held by ICE at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack went on hunger strike. The hunger strike began on November 13th and continued for some 30 days despite numerous attempts by ICE and the Bergen County Sheriff’s office to discourage the hunger strike from continuing. The bottom line demands of the hunger strike were to release all those detained by ICE, especially during this time of COVID-19. Physical distancing is nearly impossible in detention centers/jails, conditions make it difficult, at times, to maintain sanitary conditions, and being detained for violations crossing the border should not become de facto death sentences.
One of the hunger strikers revealed in an interview that one of his cell mates had been tested for COVID-19 but was transferred to a facility near Buffalo before the results were made public. According
those detained by ICE at the Bergen County
Jail, Hackensack, NJ on Christmas Day 2020.
(Photo courtesy: Madelyn Hoffman)
to this hunger striker, the Sheriff’s office doesn’t share information about COVID-19 tests with others in the facility. Apparently, they don’t even share results with the individual that they are testing. This means that those who were confined to the same living space don’t know if they were sharing space with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. No one knows whether it was safe to transfer that person to another facility because the results of the tests remain unknown.
The hunger strikers inside of the Bergen County jail reported unsanitary conditions, a rodent infestation, extremes of temperature both hot and cold, a lack of clean drinking water and more. Because of this, the demands of their hunger strike were to be released to be with family, family who would make sure their basic human needs were met. Instead, most of the hunger strikers were transferred, taking their protests with them to their new location.
New hunger strikes began in the Essex County and Hudson County Jails on Monday, December 28th, again to call attention to the conditions inside and for all detained to be released. Adrienne Romero, in an article published on 12/27 on NJ.com, reports that there are now 33 people inside the Hudson County detention center who are testing positive for COVID-19.
In a related matter, on Monday, December 21st, about 40 people attended a vigil to #Bring HieuHome. The event was held outside the Federal Building in Newark. Over 1200 signatures on a petition calling for Hieu’s release were delivered to the ICE offices in the Federal Building.
Hieu is a legal permanent resident in the U.S. He came to the U.S. as a child refugee from Vietnam at the age of 9. He has already served his time for a crime he committed as a teenager, a crime committed in part because this new country he was living in didn’t provide him the kind of support he needed. He served his time and had been free for 20 years when he was picked up by ICE and brought to the Essex County jail. A special shrine was set up to honor Hieu and the more than 30 others who died while in custody in the Essex County jail during the last two year (see photos). During this event, Hieu’s father called in and addressed his son’s case publicly for the first time.
If you would like to help out those detained by ICE in these 4 North Jersey jails, you can do so here:
Give a gift of a donation at holiday time:
First Friends of New Jersey and New York
Your donations and generosity help First Friends of NJ and NY uphold the inherent dignity and humanity of detained immigrants and asylum seekers. https://firstfriendsnjny.org/donate/
Brooklyn Community Bail Fund
Donate at https://brooklynbailfund.org/donate
Editor's Note: Madelyn Hoffman, a seasoned activist, was director of the Grass-Roots Environmental Organization and director of New Jersey Peace Action. She was Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential running mate in New Jersey in 1996. The following year she ran for New Jersey governor as a Green. She also ran as a Green for U.S. Senate in 2018, receiving 25,150 votes, and ran for the same seat again in 2020, receiving 38,288 votes. You can read more about Madelyn's achievements here.