Critics compare Divincenzo to pre-Civil War slave catcher at jail protest

Protesters gather outside the Essex County Jail to condemn local government officials who are collaborating with the Trump administration.

About three dozen protesters assembled outside the Essex County jail on Doremus Avenue in Newark on a windy Saturday, to demand that officials end their collaboration with the Trump administration, which is paying millions of dollars annually to incarcerate immigration detainees.

Essex County Executive Joseph Divincenzo has defended the contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) but critics have said his arguments would have befitted any pre-Civil War slave catcher. ICE pays Essex County more than $100 per day, per detainee held in the jail.

To underscore that point, a CUNY professor who lives in Newark, John ‘Jay’ Arena, is waging a protest campaign against Divincenzo in Tuesday’s general election, running under the banner “Jobs and Equal Rights for All.”

“We want to drive out Trump, but we have to dump all the Democrats too, in deep blue New Jersey, and deep blue Essex County, deep blue Newark, they are collaborating with ICE,” said Arena, author of the book, Driven From New Orleans, which is about the politics of public housing privatization after Katrina.

The protesters chanted slogans, accompanied by the Solidarity Singers, marched to demand that Essex County end its collaboration with ICE because jailing people for minor immigration violations or those waiting decisions on an asylum request amounts to an inhumane injustice.

“I’m not going to tell you that we can shut down this contract this year,” said Ellen Whitt, one of the protest organizers. “These contracts involve a lot of money. More today than ever….It’s a lot of money at stake and they won’t give up this income stream lightly, but by exposing their collaboration with ICE and profits off of an immoral system, we can change the political equation.”

“There’s actually a perverse, austere beauty to the county jail, which doubles as one of the three most active immigrant detention centers in the nation,” said her husband, Whit Strub, who posted a photo of the scene on his Facebook page.

Saturday’s protest was one in a series of demonstrations in response to the Trump administration’s harsh immigration enforcement, which has increased the number of people detained or deported, and ripped apart families and left immigrant children in cages.

Across the country, local officials are facing heat for cooperating with Trump, with some jurisdictions terminating contracts with ICE after public outcry. Earlier this year, officials in some California, Virginia, and Oregon localities canceled contracts with ICE to hold immigration detainees.

In New Jersey, immigrants are held at county jails in Essex, Bergen and Hudson counties as well as a corporation-owned prison facility in Elizabeth.

Essex County is one of 10 counties across the US that accounted for more than a quarter of immigration arrests over an eight-month period, according to data compiled by a nonpartisan research center at Syracuse University.

Arena questioned the justification for Essex County’s Newark to claim the designation as a sanctuary city when immigrants here are rounded up and held in prisons for profit, the way slave catchers did prior to the Civil War.

Earlier this year, John ‘Jay’ Arena confronted Essex County Executive Joseph Divincenzo over his collaboration with the Trump administration’s persecution of immigrants. Arena was among those leading a protest outside the Essex County jail on Saturday.

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