People In ICE Detention In Essex And Hudson County Jails Undertake Hunger Strikes To Obtain Their Freedom From Indefinite Incarceration As Confirmed Covid-19 Cases Rise Behind Bars
Kearny & Newark- Today, Monday December 28th, dozens of men inside ICE detention at both the Essex and Hudson County Jails have just begun a hunger strike in an attempt to gain their freedom. The strike coincides with a spike in Covid-19 cases at both facilities creating fear, a sense of urgency and exacerbating the already harsh conditions for those inside jails and ICE facilities.
“I had never experienced the suffering, the pain, the agony that is to be locked up there, all the humiliations, all the torture that one goes through in that place. It’s unbelievable, it’s awful.” – Hunger Striker B in ICE Detention at Essex County Jail
The members of the Abolish ICE NY-NJ Coalition and the supporters of these hunger strikers want people to understand that when anyone embarks on a hunger strike they are putting their bodies on the line for the opportunity to be heard. The hunger strikers are risking their health and their lives in order to free themselves from indefinite detention and are fighting for their right to be reunited with loved ones and community.
“[W]e’re fighting because I want to stay in this country with my children, in this country where I have lived for so long and which I consider home. I don’t want to leave it. Especially my children, how will I leave them? They are very young. You have to let them know that our families need a lot of support, not just money, but the warmth of a home. They need their father, because a father is a light that his children want to follow to move forward… We’re sacrificing our bodies, letting them know that staying in the country with my children, and my children’s well-being is more important than my life. I am showing them that my life is worthless if I don’t have my family… ” – Hunger Striker A in ICE Detention at Essex County Jail
These hunger strikes at Essex and Hudson follow at least two recent hunger strikes at Bergen County Jail, and two previous hunger strikes at the Hudson County Jail. The men on hunger strike in Bergen faced retaliation including: denial of water, denial of medical care, denial of heat, blocked windows, and manipulation from facility staff. ICE further retaliated against participants in November’s hunger strike by transferring and deporting people. However, Marcial Morales and José Suchite Salguero were both able to obtain their freedom after undertaking hunger strikes while in ICE detention in Bergen County.
“I am a Survivor of Bergen county Jail. I have 3 kids. They mean everything for me. I took the decision to fight my case because I want to see them grow up.” – Marcial Morales, a former hunger striker at Bergen County Jail.
As of December 23rd, there were over 40 COVID-19 positive cases inside the Essex County Jail. On Sunday, December 26,the Jersey Journal reported that there were 33 positive COVID-19 cases amongst people held at the Hudson County Jail. While rates of Covid-19 within Essex County and other ICE detention and penal facilities have continued to skyrocket, the on-going incarceration of people poses a massive threat to their health and safety.
This COVID outbreak follows the recent renewal of Hudson County’s contract with ICE for up to 10 years, as the County Freeholders voted 6-3 in favor, despite vocal community outcry against the contract. And Essex County has faced vocal opposition to its ICE contract since at least 2010, but protests have increased in frequency and intensity since the pandemic and stay at home orders began. A week ago, Essex County elected officials and ICE received a petition signed by 1,200 people demanding the release of Hieu Huynh who has been detained at the Essex County Jail for over six months.
About Immigration Detention in New Jersey- New Jersey has four immigration detention facilities. Three are pursuant to intergovernmental service agreements between Bergen, Essex, and Hudson Counties and ICE. Each of the counties is paid a “bed rate” of between $110 and $120/day. The counties use the contracts, which date back as far as 25 years, to generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue annually. The contracts and their associated revenue are often celebrated by the elected Democrats who sign them. The fourth facility is the Elizabeth Detention Center, which is run by the private for-profit company CoreCivic, but the building is owned by a local company, The Elberon Development Group. The principals of Elberon, Anne Evans Estabrook and Dave Gibbons, contribute to the campaigns of local politicians and sit on the boards of local institutions including Kean University, NJPAC, and RWJBarnabas.