Protesters call for closure of Elizabeth immigration detention center

Local New Jersey groups again gathered in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) to call for the closure of the facility. The EDC’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is set to expire on August 31, 2023.

The latest protest was part of a campaign to “Make the EDC History.” Speakers at the event shared testimonies from people who had been detained at the EDC, describing the inhumane conditions they had experienced.

They also called on President Joe Biden, Governor Phil Murphy, state representatives, and Mayor Chris Bollwage to close ICE jails and create more humane immigration policies.

A moment of silence was held for Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez, who died in ICE custody in 2022. Reyes Alvarez was a 25-year-old mother of two who had been detained at the EDC for two years. She died of a heart attack after being denied medical care.

CoreCivic, the EDC’s for-profit private prison operator, is currently suing Murphy in a last-ditch attempt to keep the facility open, as it is also facing a lawsuit seeking its eviction from its landlord, Portview Properties.

The EDC is the last operating ICE facility in New Jersey.

Three other local counties stopped detaining people for ICE in 2021, around the time that state law prohibited any entity from renewing its contract with ICE or entering into a new contract to jail immigrants.

Unfortunately, before Murphy signed the bill into law, CoreCivic, the company that runs the detention center, was able to exercise an option to renew until the end of August.

Organizers of the protest say that they will continue to fight to close the EDC and ensure that no one else is detained there. They are encouraging supporters to donate bond and commissary funds to First Friends NY/NJ.

Among the groups calling on officials to close ICE jails and create more humane immigration policies are:

  • American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program Newark
  • Casa Freehold
  • Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
  • Deportation & Immigration Response Equipo (DIRE) Support Services & Legal Services
  • Detention Watch Network
  • First Friends of New Jersey & New York
  • Interfaith Campaign for Just Closures
  • New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice
  • Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition
  • North New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America
  • Pax Christi New Jersey
  • Reformed Church of Highland Park
  • Still Waters Anti-Trafficking Program

Organizers say this is part of a series of actions this summer to ensure the pipeline funneling community members into ICE detention is cut, that people are freed, and that the EDC is never again used to warehouse people.

The program started with a recording of the poem, ‘You Cannot Detain Our Spirit,’ by Frank Lopez of the Peace Poets. The poem was written in 2011 as part of efforts to stop the expansion of detention beds and end ties between the Essex County Jail and ICE.

In addition to poetry, there was music.

The Filthy Rotten System Band, a Catholic Worker band from New York that frequents rallies in front of ICE detention centers, played a powerful rendition of ‘Deportee’ by Woody Guthrie among other songs.

Among the signs and banners were references to the two men who died as the result of severe medical neglect, Boubacar Bah and Victor Ramirez-Reyes.

The protest was a powerful show of solidarity for the people who have been detained at the EDC and for the families who have been separated by immigration detention. It is a reminder that the fight to close ICE jails and create more humane immigration policies is not over.

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