As of the morning of Monday, January 4th approximately 86 men in ICE custody are on hunger strike inside the Essex County Jail and approximately 55 men in ICE custody are on hunger strike inside the Hudson County Jail, according to a press release issued today by Freedom for Immigrants and Critical Resistance. The number of men on hunger strike in Essex has more than tripled since last week when 24 men joined in the protest. Their primary demand is that they be released from ICE custody so that they can reunite with their families and community, and fight their immigration cases from outside ICE custody where they have the resources to do so. Conditions in New Jersey detention centers are already unsatisfactory and the number of COVID cases are on the rise.
“My partner has decided to do this hunger strike with my support, so he and the other detainees can go home to their loved ones and work on their immigration cases in peace. Instead, they are being locked up 12 hours of the day due to a current COVID outbreak at Hudson. What’s worse is that there are many people who need immediate and extensive medical care inside due to their physical and mental state. Enough is enough, we want them home so that they are safe and taken care of by their communities and families,” said Mary A*., the fiancé of one of the men on hunger strike in Hudson.
The men on hunger strike inside the Hudson County Jail had paused their strike last week after the jail administration promised to bring ICE officials to meet with them.
By Thursday it was clear that no meeting would take place, so the protest resumed.
In Essex, the men are facing intimidation and threats from guards and ICE. Guards have threatened some of the men with physical harm if they do not abandon their protest. ICE, on the other hand, is demanding that everyone on hunger strike take a COVID-19 test. The men believe this is so that ICE can use this as a pretext to place them in separate cells to break their solidarity with one another. Four of the men have been placed in isolated cells under the pretext of quarantine even though no COVID-19 test was administered to them.
It is important to note that ICE detention, like all incarceration, is family separation. Further, everyone in ICE detention is being held simply because they are an immigrant. Even if they committed a crime in their past, they have done their time. If they were a US citizen they would be home with their families right now.
Abolish ICE New York & New Jersey continues to call for ICE to heed the directives of public health experts and release everyone from its custody as the best means of protecting our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Abolish ICE New York & New Jersey calls on the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, Governors Murphy and Cuomo, and local New Jersey and New York officials to act swiftly to end private immigration detention, to exit from and prohibit contracts between ICE and localities in New York and New Jersey, and to phase out immigration detention nationwide. Without immediate action, more people will needlessly suffer, and the death toll in detention will continue to rise.
*Last name withheld for privacy purposes
Tania Mattos, Freedom for Immigrants: firstname.lastname@example.org, (646) 354-0065
Marlene Nava Ramos, Critical Resistance: email@example.com, (929) 390-8606