HACKENSACK — Police gassed demonstrators and arrested several on Saturday after a day of protests against immigration detentions at the Bergen County jail.

Dozens of protesters gathered at the jail and the courthouse on Saturday, according to reports from the scene. At one point, police used what was believed to be pepper spray. Video shows officers taking several people to the ground and arresting them outside the jail.

Immigration advocates have been protesting local contracts in Hudson and Bergen counties with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which pays to hold immigrant detainees at the county jails as they await court hearings or immigration proceedings.

Since November, immigrant detainees in Bergen have been on a hunger strike as advocates called on ICE to release the detainees because of the dangers of the pandemic. And in recent weeks, the protests outside have been heating up.

This week, Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton has hit by vandalism, with the message "free them all" spray-painted on his garage. Officials have not identified any suspects.

In Hudson County, protesters began to gather for what they called vigils outside the Jersey City home of County Executive Tom DeGise, leading to a restraining order against the advocates and the arrest of four people this week.

DeGise, a Democrat, called the protestors "left-wing extremists" and "Democratic Socialists who stand for an agenda that is frankly offensive to many of us."

In an opinion piece published by The Jersey Journal, DeGise said the county and the jail protect the detainees and provide them with services such as free legal representation and English language lessons and that the detainees would face harsher treatment if ICE were to move them elsewhere.

In response, Imani Oakley, a regional director of Progressive Democrats of New Jersey, said that for DeGise and the other Democratic county officials, "human dignity is only a priority when their opponent has an (R) next to their name."

Jack Ephros, of the North New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America and the Abolish ICE NY-NJ Coalition, also countered DeGise's arguments in an opinion piece in The Star-Ledger.

"He’ll pretend a Democratic president will solve all our problems. He’ll send sheriff’s officers to arrest peaceful demonstrators. All this callousness is a distraction from the suffering and injustice that goes on every single day in immigration detention," Ephros said. "Mr. DeGise can try police violence, and he can try to violate our First Amendment rights, but he can’t stop this movement."

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-775-9793 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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