Sheriff’s officers without protective gear made contact today with protesters operating vehicles in the area around the Essex County jail at the end of demonstration organized by social justice advocates.
People associated with several organizations were taking action in a “driving protest” around the Federal Building and the Essex County Jail to urge Governor Phil Murphy and New Jersey ICE Field Office Director John Tsoukaris to immediately release all immigrants held in county jails or the privately-operated detention center in Elizabeth.
There was a simultaneous broadcast on New Jersey Revolution Radio’s Facebook page and website, sharing the protest and airing interviews with the family members of people who are incarcerated in New Jersey’s jails simply for being suspected of being in violation of immigration law.
Today’s action is intended to pressure both Murphy and Tsoukaris because the time is running short to avoid a major outbreak of Covid-19 in the jails.
The lead organizers of the protest include Action 21, Cosecha NJ, Green Party NJ, DIRE, Close the Camps NJ, Never Again Action, New Sanctuary Coalition, NJ5 Indivisible, North Jersey Democratic Socialist of America, Pax Christi NJ and Unitarian Universalist Faith Action.
“People are sick. They are coughing. They have fevers. Dozens are packed into open dorms with bunks head to head. They aren’t even given Tylenol for their symptoms. When their fevers get high they are just moved to another part of the facility,” said a woman whose husband is being detained at the Essex County Jail. She did not want to be identified to protect her family.
“People in immigration detention are all using the same language to describe their situation. They call themselves ‘sitting ducks.’ They are trapped in a system notorious for its denial of medical care and inhumane conditions. We recognize their suffering and hear the desperation in pleas of their families. Our Governor, John Tsoukaris and all our elected officials need to hear their voices too and respond swiftly with compassion and decency,” said Kathy O’Leary state coordinator for Pax Christi in NJ.
“There are 500 ICE detainees in the Essex County Jail. Under normal circumstances this is inhumane, unjust and unnecessary. Add #COVOD19 and it could turn deadly,” said O’Leary.
People locked up in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease due to their deprivation of liberty, deteriorating health while in detention, physical proximity to others who may be infected, and the track record of inadequate medical care in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) custody.
Over three thousand medical professional demanded on March 19 that ICE release the detainees now.
Doctors employed by DHS itself have warned of “tinderbox” spread unless the detainees are released.
Thirty organizations, led by Resist the Deportation Machine, sent a letter on March 23rd to Murphy calling on him to “act swiftly in the interest of public health and safety not only for those in the jails and detention center, but also for the public at large.”
The coalition members have reason to be concerned over the cleanliness of the facilities and the limited access to healthcare for detainees held in NJ.
From 2010 to 2016 NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, a coalition of organizations concerned about the overuse and abuse of immigration detention, published a series of reports, in cooperation with the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, which documented the poor conditions in immigration detention including, lack of access to clean drinking water, inedible and spoiled food, abuse of solitary confinement and inadequate and denial of access to medical care.
From 2016 to 2018, ACLU, Detention Watch Network, Human Rights Watch, and the National Immigrant Justice Center released three reports detailing how inadequate medical care has contributed to numerous deaths in ICE custody.
The dangerous and deadly effects of coronavirus are exacerbated in confinement, where people incarcerated are often malnourished due to rotting food.
Prisoners are also reportedly denied information on the most basic of measures to prevent exposure of the virus.
“The Governor and John Tsoukaris should not allow a suspected violation of immigration law- a civil infraction- to be converted to a death sentence. They must act now. They have both the power and the responsibility,” said Alejandro Jaramillo, one of three protesters ticketed by Newark police as the demonstration was concluding.
Police charged the protesters with blocking traffic, although the passengers in each car operated video cameras used to broadcast the scene.
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