Congressmen held a press conference in Elizabeth today after touring the privately-owned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center, for nearly three hours.
New York Reps. Gregory Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries and Adriano Espaillat and New Jersey Reps. Albio Sires and Frank Pallone made up the delegation, which toured the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, where about 300 immigrants are captives.
Human rights activists who have been demaning an end to the inhumane confinement in federal, state, or local prisons and jails of people who are only seeking a better life for themselves in America derided the visitors for failing to take real action.
Controversy over immigration policy is shining a spotlight on the private prison industry, which runs detention facilities that house tens of thousands of immigrants, but activists challeneged the politicians to stop their rallies who are collaborating with the Trump administration.
The detention industry is getting more attention because of President Trump’s immigration detention policies, such as separating children from their parents, and because of the terrible conditions in many facilities, which are run by both the government and private firms.
“Sires is a long time thug against Cuba and anyone that doesn’t toe the US line, and is now pushing regime change against Venezuela,” said Jay Arena, an activist with the Resist the Deportation Machine network. “Jeffries is a big pimp for charters, while Gregory Meeks from Queens is good buddy of death squad gangster Uribe in Colombia, whose terror, especially against Afro-Colombian on the Pacific coast, have forced people to migrate.”
Arena, an associate professor of sociology at the College of Staten Island, has been demanding that the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders “immediately end the county’s contract with ICE to hold 800 immigrant detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.”
“It’s stark. They don’t have separate dormitories. They have a cot and they’re all together,” said Pallone, who was reluctant to describe conditions inside the facility.
While the imprisoned immigrants are largely destitiute, according to the Federal Election Commission, Frank Pallone has $2,580,929.13 in his congressional campaign account, while Hakeem Jeffries has $2,212,403.97, Gregory Meeks $336,640.92, Albio Sires has $153,849.09 and Adriano Espaillat has a campaign fund that is $11,000 in debt.
A 200-page class-action lawsuit includes disturbing descriptions of life for people held in civil — not criminal — custody at some of the 158 facilities that provide long-term immigration lockup for the United States government.
County jails, federal lockups and privately run detention centers are part of the detention network for ICE, which has about 55,000 beds at its disposal.
“There is no independent oversight, inasmuch as all entities that conduct inspections are paid and vetted [by DHS] — either as contractors or as direct employees,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Central District of California. Lawyers for the plaintiffs include the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center in Denver, Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, California and the Georgia and Louisiana branches of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Defendants named in the lawsuit include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which supervises immigration detention, and multiple Trump administration officials.
Because of neglect at facilities, “dozens have unnecessarily died as a result of insufficient care,” the lawsuit alleges.
“It is often days, weeks, or months before [detainees] can see medical staff within detention facilities. They are commonly given over-the-counter pain medication as the only intervention, even if the underlying medical issue —from cancer to chest pain to depression — requires more serious and immediate treatment,” the complaint says,” the lawsuit alleges. “Examples of harm to detainees include cancer “undiagnosed for years, severe pain that is left untreated, and detained individuals who are placed at risk of amputation and other severe medical consequences.”
Noting that the detention center had advance warning of their visit, the congressmen admitted they might not have witnessed conditions detainees usually experience.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has contracts with facilities across the nation to hold detainees, which often include immigrants who may wait months for deportation hearings.
The Elizabeth facility is run by CoreCivic, a private company that owns and operates prisons. Media representatives were not permitted to join the congressional delegation inside during the tour.
As of July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had almost 53,000 people in its custody, and private prison firms are responsible for detaining more than 70 percent of them.
At least 11 Democrats running for president want to eliminate private prisons, but the Trump administration’s focus on building a border wall and keeping immigrants out suggests that preying on American xenophobia is a crucial part of the Republican’s re-election strategy.
As the congressmen took their tour, protesters outside the facility held signs, including “Ban ICE” and “Amazon: No Tech for ICE.”
Some of them heckled the lawmakers’ press conference, criticizing them for not doing enough to free immigrants.
“People who are frustrated or angered by the vitriol, bigotry and racism coming from President Trump do not need slick politicians to come here and asl for our votes. We need action, answers and alterenatives,” said Lisa McCormick, who noted that
In New Jersey, ICE also has contracts with Essex, Hudson and Bergen counties to hold detainees in county jails for a daily fee of more than $100 per person.
Critics say shrinking the size of both our prison and immigration detention populations is the most effective and humane way to ensure that fewer people remain behind bars in America.
Pallone issued a statement following the visit that said:
“It has been over a year since my last visit to the Elizabeth detention center and the ramifications of the President’s divisive rhetoric and antipathy toward asylum seekers remain on full display. Sadly, the conditions and stories from my last visit have not changed.
“I spoke with over 40 detainees who fled persecution and violence in their home countries, hoping only to find refuge for themselves and their families in the United States. Each person I spoke to had a powerful story to tell.
“I met a Christian woman from Kenya who faced religious persecution and violence. I spoke to a man from Venezuela and a man from a Central Asian country both facing state sponsored political persecution. I also heard from a Central American woman who was forced out of her country for setting up a program to help survivors of domestic violence.
“It is frankly un-American to see the Trump Administration attempt to terminate the Flores agreement and push to indefinitely imprison families and asylum seekers once they cross the border into the United States.
“We must never forget that we are a nation of immigrants that is strengthened at home and around the world when we treat the most vulnerable and impoverished among us in a humanitarian and fair manner just as many of our families were when they first came to this country.”
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