'We are here to expose it': Advocates shut down 'ICE black site' in New Jersey
Dozens of pro-immigrant activists blocked an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in New Jersey on Tuesday in protest of the agency’s inhumane practice of transferring detained immigrants without notice to attorneys or family. Rather than just releasing them—which ICE can do—officials transfer immigrants to faraway regions, often under the cover of night.
“Every day ICE abducts people from their homes, their workplaces, their communities,” Movimiento Cosecha organizer Haydi Torres said in a statement. “Every day ICE transfers people in detention in the dead of night from one location to another, without telling people why or where they are going, without notifying family or lawyers.” Torres said, “all of this ICE terror is organized through this office and we are here to expose it.”
While years-long, community-led efforts have led to the end of some ICE contracts in the area, “advocates are seeing detainees be transferred rather than released,” Movimiento Cosecha said. Essex County Correctional Center said in April that it would be ending its contract of more than a decade, but instead of releasing detained immigrants, officials transferred them in total secrecy. “Not even their immigration lawyers currently know where ICE has transferred them,” groups advocating for their release said.
On Tuesday, advocates including Movimiento Cosecha, Abolish ICE NY-NJ, NYC ICE Watch, Never Again Action, Close the Camps, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice gathered outside a desolate, unidentified office they’ve deemed an “ICE black site” where immigrants are held before being transferred out of state, or deported. There, they blocked one main exit in order to impede vans moving immigrants. When officials then tried to use a back exit, advocates blocked that one too.
“We successfully blocked all ICE activity at their New Jersey black site during the morning deportation window,” Never Again Action tweeted. “The vans that would have taken people to be transferred or deported never even made it out of the parking lot. And their landlord is on notice: we’ll be back.”
The Biden administration is also facing a lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of New Jersey, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild over this transferring practice.
“The lawsuit cites violations of due process and the Immigration and Nationality Act,” groups said, noting that ICE has a history of sending immigrants to remote regions of the nation, intentionally making it harder for them to reach relatives, advocacy groups, and legal help. “The groups are asking the court to prevent ICE from transferring immigration detainees at Essex who are represented by counsel to facilities more than 100 miles away.” The groups called the transfers “illegal.”
Advocates said that among those recently targeted by ICE is Alex Kamara, who was transferred from a local facility to Arizona. “From Frelinghuysen Avenue [the site of today’s action], they forced us to sign papers,” he said. “About six guys jumped us, slammed us to the road. And after that we got chained hands and feet and they drove us over to Newark airport.” Kamara had been critical about the treatment of detained immigrants. Advocates say “transfers are also a method ICE uses to retaliate against people who organize and demand freedom.”
“I live in fear every day, fear that that they will transfer my husband and I will not be able to see him anymore,” Laura Julney said. Her husband, Patrick, has been detained at Bergen for over two years. “It’s the only time we truly have peace, when we can see each other smile and laugh, and find a moment of escape in each other’s eyes.” While the state’s legislation has taken important action to rein in ICE’s abuses by passing a historic bill that would ban new ICE contracts as well as prohibit the renewal of existing agreements, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has not yet signed it.
“Our lawmakers acknowledge with this vote that we cannot continue to subject New Jerseyans to the indignities and civil rights violations that are inherent to immigration detention, and we cannot continue to enable the separation of families from their loved ones,” said the ACLU of New Jersey’s Ami Kachalia. “We urge Gov. Murphy to sign this legislation as quickly as possible, to ensure that New Jersey can keep families together and treat all people with dignity.”