Essex ends ICE contract: Protesters want all inmates, not just immigrants, freed
NEWARK — By this summer, Essex County jail will no longer house detainees for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, as the county has ended its long-time ICE contract.
But a number of progressive groups were far from cheering that announcement.
After months and even years protesting such ICE contracts, among the most radical advocates lamented the idea that the jail would still be housing any inmates, pointing to a recent deal for the facility to take on prisoners from Union County.
“We cannot celebrate an end to an ICE contract when the Essex county officials continue to be committed to profiting off of incarcerating people,” a tweet from The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice said. “This is not what justice looks like.”
There also was concern that the 164 ICE detainees being held at Essex County as of Thursday might be transferred out of state.
A statement from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Newark said that it was “currently considering its options both locally and nationally.” It also called ICE’s 13-year history with the jail “a positive and mutually beneficial relationship.”
“I've fought against the Essex ICE contract for years — even got arrested — but the problem with this 'solution' is that the jail is replacing the ICE detainees with inmates from Union county. We don't want different people to be jailed, we want to end a racist carceral system,” according to Mary Rizzo, an organizer with the Abolish ICE NY-NJ coalition, on Twitter.
On Twitter, Rizzo called the two-part move by Essex County "an immoral and unethical way to balance the county's budget.” Union County announced a week ago that it was closing the majority of its jail operations in Elizabeth and as of July, sending prisoners — currently 345 of them — to Essex County jail.
The Abolish ICE NY-NJ coalition is made up of a number of organizations, including Pax Christi New Jersey, Freedom For Immigrants, North New Jersey DSA, First Friends of NJ NY and others.
“We are being called in this moment to honor the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Let's divest from incarceration. Let's fight for release of ICE detainees as the contract ends. Let's invest in restorative justice,” was the online reaction from Faith In New Jersey, a faith-based social justice organization.
At least one non-partisan organization in the state applauded the news of one ICE contract ending, calling it “truly incredible.”
“Federal immigration enforcement violates human rights, harms public health, and deepens racial and economic inequities. Now it's time for Bergen and Hudson Counties to follow Essex's lead and end their contracts with ICE,” the progressive New Jersey Policy Perspective said in a statement on Twitter.
“This is no small thing, and a result of deep, long-term organizing. Now comes the hard work of making it a reality, WITHOUT Hudson replacing their ICE contract with a detention contract with Mercer County as they tried to do in 2020,” Abolish ICE NY-NJ said in a separate tweet.
“Our fight to end ICE detention, whether that’s in Essex and Hudson counties, or anywhere, must be linked to the larger fight for decarceration and abolishing prisons,” the group added.
“When we talk about abolishing prisons and abolishing law enforcement, it’s actually reducing the power and the reach of those entities,” DeAnna Hoskins, president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, previously said in 2019 to The Marshall Project, for an article called “What Do Abolitionists Really Want?”
In the same piece, Hoskins calls some viewpoints among those against the prison system “not realistic.”
JustLeadershipUSA is a national non-profit that largely involves former prisoners working for large scale criminal justice reforms.
The five-year agreement between Essex and Union counties was billed as a major cost-cutting effort, while also citing a drop in the number of prisoners in Union County, down nearly 67% the past decade.
Union County jail would remain open as a hub to process and transport prisoners to Essex.