Pilgrimage Protest Planned

JERSEY CITY – Wednesday morning, members from more than two dozen faith based, community and immigrant rights groups, including members from Pax Christi NJ, IRATE & First Friends, American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program- Newark and NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees plan to make a 12-mile “pilgrimage” from Liberty State Park to the Elizabeth Detention Center to protest the detention of immigrants.

Organizers cite their outrage over the history of immigration detention in New Jersey which includes a cases of abuse, deaths, a culture of secrecy and a lack of transparency in the county jails and the private detention facilities that now hold over 2000 individuals on any given day, as the driving force behind the event.

Organizers note that since Essex County signed the contract with a private company to expand immigration detention to 1250 people this past fall, Essex County has been in the news almost constantly with the stories of hardship that immigration detention is causing to local residents and their families. “These are just the stories that make it into the newspaper,” said Sally Pillay, director of the intern program for IRATE & First Friends. “We know of many more that most people will never hear of. For each and every one of the over 2000 people held in the county jails and immigration detention centers in NJ there is a story of human suffering.”

Along the way, pilgrims will witness with various faith traditions along by stopping at Assumption/All Saints Church, the Al-Ghazaly School, Temple Beth-El and St. Stephan’s Grace Community ELCA. “We may worship in different ways, but we all believe in the innate value of human beings regardless of immigration status as well as the principle of welcoming the stranger,” said Rev. Gene Squeo, the co-pastor of St. Patrick’s/Assumption/All Saints in Jersey City.

The pilgrimage is the third annual event of its kind held on the Christian feast day of Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, 40 days of penance and repentance that are marked by prayer, abstinence and corporal works of mercy. The theme of this year’s event is “For Sandals & Silver”. It is a reference to a quote from the book of Amos from the Hebrew scriptures: “Because they hand over the just for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; they trample the heads of the destitute into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way.”

“County governments like Essex hail the revenue generated by contracts with ICE as ‘heroic’ and ‘innovative’ ways to reduce property taxes but one cannot avoid the moral conflicts that arise when the financial benefit of some is being used to justify the suffering of many,” said Kathy O’Leary coordinator for Pax Christi NJ.

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