Essex County Correctional Facility, Newark, New Jersey
March 17, 2020 – Ongoing

A group of detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, New Jersey have organized a hunger strike demanding their immediate release as COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout New Jersey and the world. The private facility is operated by CoreCivic under contract with Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE).

The Bronx Defenders, a public defender nonprofit that is in touch with the hunger strikers, released the following statement from the detainees,

“2B3 is on a hunger strike. We are asking our fellow brothers in ICE to join us. We are also asking the kitchen workers that work in the main kitchen downstairs to not go to work. The point of this is to ask for release. Releasing meaning on bond, bracelet or the people with final deportation orders that actually want to be deported get them on their plane ASAP. This coronavirus is getting out of control and if we were to be infected I am sure everyone would rather die on the outside with our families than in here. Both wardens have stated that they will not interfere with our situation as long as it does not interfere with the regular operation of the jail. This means no fighting, no arguing with the COs over this. We still have to lock in on time, we still have to clean. The wardens understand that our problem is not with us, it’s with ICE. They have instructed their sergeants and lieutenants to not interfere with what we are trying to do. Finally, we ask these of you who can have their family call the news and tell them what’s happening to push the issue of releasing us because after all we are not criminals. We are here on a civil matter – not criminal. We shouldn’t have to stay locked up during an on processing deadly pandemic. I hope you will join us because there is power in numbers and this is a fight not only for our freedom but also for our health and safety.”

The Bronx Defenders claim that they have been requesting ICE take immediate measures to protect the health of the detainees in their custody since the beginning of the pandemic. According to the group, ICE has failed to do so. In a statement, the group stated,

Instead, we are now receiving multiple reports from the detained people we represent and their family members that they are being subjected to dangerous conditions throughout these jails, putting them at further risk of contracting and spreading the COVID-19 virus.

The information we’ve received that conditions at the Essex County Correctional Facility have deteriorated to such an extent that people incarcerated there have launched a hunger strike just underlines how deeply problematic ICE’s management of the situation is. We are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. ICE has done nothing to rise to the occasion but instead continues to put the lives of hundreds of people at risk. For the health and safety of all, we demand the immediate release of all people currently in ICE custody and the halting of all arrests by ICE.

The group Never Again Action held a demonstration outside the detention center, circling the facility with their cars and making noise. They also held a protest outside the city’s immigration court where they projected an image reading “Anne Frank Died of Typhus, Not a Gas Chamber. If Detainees Can’t Social Distance, Governor Cuomo, Free Them All!”

“Immigrants in a Newark detention center are begging to be released before COVID kills them” the group Tweeted, “We can’t leave them to die.”

The hunger strike began just days before a healthcare worker at the ICE-contracted Elizabeth Detention Facility in New Jersey tested positive for COVID-19 and a prisoner and three corrections officers tested positive for COVID-19 on Riker’s Island.

There have also been reports of hunger strikes at the Hudson County Correctional Facility and the Elizabeth Detention Facility, both in New Jersey.

Detainees at the Bristol County Jail also released a letter highlighting their concerns of a possible outbreak of COVID-19 in their facility. “We are trapped inside a storage and in fear for our lives” they wrote. The detainees reported,

Today at around 12:00pm medical personell in their unofficial vest stated that the
infection of the whole ICE facility population is inevitable and will occur within the
next 30 days. Such statement spreaded faster than the virus itself among detainees that are now extremely agitated and panicking.

On Wednesday, the second day of the hunger strike at Essex County CF, ICE announced that it would temporarily halt certain enforcement activities, particularly arrests “at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.”

 

Citations:

Immigrants in NJ Detention Center Organize Hunger Strike; NYIFUP Condemns Egregious Conditions in Local ICE Jails Amid COVID-19 Pandemic“, The Bronx Defenders,  March 18, 2020.

ICE detainees go on hunger strike in N.J amid coronavirus fears, lawyers say‘, NJ.com, March 18, 2020.

“ICE to stop most immigration enforcement inside U.S., will focus on criminals during coronavirus outbreak”, The Washington Post, March 18, 2020.

ICE Detainees Launch Hunger Strike Over Coronavirus Fears“, The Appeal, March 19, 2020.

Medical staffer at ICE detention center tests positive for coronavirus“, NJ.com, March 20, 2020.

A Rikers Island Doctor Speaks Out to Save Her Elderly Patients from the Coronavirus“, The New Yorker, March 20, 2020.

Coronavirus updates: New York mayor declares city ‘epicenter’“, NBC News, March 20, 2020.

Detainees at jail say they fear COVID-19 outbreak“, CommonWealth, March 20, 2020.

 

Header image source: twitter.com/NeverAgainActn

Article published 3/21/20