#FreeThemAll Driving Protest Coming to Trenton

Activists Urge Press to Ask Governor Murphy about His Plans to protect Immigrants in Detention from Covid-19

Trenton- On Monday, April 6th, from 12:30 to 2:00 pm, family members of people incarcerated by ICE in NJ, community members, faith leaders, immigrant advocates, political activists and social justice organizations are among the those taking action in a “driving protest” to urge the press to ask Governor Murphy about his plans for people held pursuant to contracts with ICE in the county jails as well as all those held at the Elizabeth Detention Center and his efforts to release them in light of the pandemic.

Participants plan to drive a pre-planned route through Trenton from 12:30 to 2 pm. The event is timed to come before the governor’s daily briefing. The protesters will park at 2 pm so as not to interfere with the briefing but also to listen for the governor’s response to any questions from reporters about the welfare of people in immigration detention in New Jersey.

Among the participants will be family members of people currently in detention in New Jersey like Makalay Tarawally. “My partner, Abdul, has been in the Elizabeth Detention Center Center since October 2019. He has very serious asthma and high blood sugar. He was taken to the hospital 10 days ago with breathing problems. He is now back at the detention center and I fear for his life because if he gets Coronavirus, I don’t think he will make it,” said Tarawally.  Abdul is the father of Tarawally’s newborn baby who he has never seen.

“People in immigration detention in New Jersey, like all other prisoners, are a part of a high risk population. They should be a part of the daily briefings and a part of the Governor’s plan to stem the tide of the Covid-19 outbreak. We are here today to ask the press to let him know that people in detention have family members and friends in the community who are advocating for their immediate release,” said Ellen Whitt from Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War.

This is the fifth driving protest in four weeks that has been organized in New Jersey to protest the continued incarceration of people who are merely suspected of being in violation of immigration law during the Covid-19 pandemic since social distancing orders have been in place. The organizations participating include Action 21, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War, Central Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, Cosecha New Jersey, Green Party New Jersey, Jobs & Equal Rights for All, Lazos America Unida, NJ5 Indivisible, Never Again Action, and Pax Christi New Jersey.

On March 17th, American Friends Service Committee and People’s Organization for Progress sent the Governor a letter calling on him to “advocate for the release of people in federal immigration detention in New Jersey”. That letter received no response from the governor or his office.

Thirty organizations, led by the coalition, Resist the Deportation Machine (RDM), sent a letter on March 23rd to Governor Murphy calling on him to “act swiftly in the interest of public health and safety not only for those in the jails and detention center, but also for the public at large”. The Governor has yet to acknowledge this letter. Members of RDM urged the Governor to use his emergency powers to release all immigrant detainees immediately.

On the same day,  another 40 organizations lead by American Friends Service Committee sent another letter to NJ ICE Field Office Director John Tsoukaris and copied the Governor, urging him to immediately release all ICE detainees in NJ. The governor also has yet to acknowledge this letter either.

“During this unprecedented emergency, citizens and advocacy groups have almost no access to the governor. We rely on the press now more than ever to ask critical questions about vulnerable people who may be overlooked in the government’s response. We are here to let the press and the governor know that people in immigration detention, many with underlying health conditions, are trapped in notoriously unsanitary facilities. These facilities are under the authority of the state’s Health Commissions and Department of Corrections. We want to hear what his plans are to protect these people,” said Kathy O’Leary the region coordinator for Pax Christi NJ.

People locked up in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease due to their deprivation of liberty, deteriorating health while in detention, physical proximity to others who may be infected, and the track record of inadequate medical care in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) custody. Over three thousand medical professional demanded on March 19 that ICE release the detainees now. Doctors employed by DHS itself have warned of “tinderbox” spread unless the detainees are released.

The coalition members have reason to be concerned over the cleanliness of the facilities and the limited access to healthcare for detainees held in NJ. From 2010 to 2016 NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, a coalition of organizations concerned about the overuse and abuse of immigration detention, published a series of reports, in cooperation with the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, which documented the poor conditions in immigration detention including, lack of access to clean drinking water, minimal access to hygiene products like soap, shampoo, and toothbrushes, inedible and spoiled food, abuse of solitary confinement and inadequate and denial of access to medical care. 

From 2016 to 2018, the ACLU, Detention Watch Network, Human Rights Watch, and the National Immigrant Justice Center released three reports detailing how inadequate medical care has contributed to numerous deaths in ICE custody. The dangerous and deadly effects of Covid-19 are exacerbated in confinement, where people incarcerated are often malnourished due to rotting food and are denied information on the most basic of measures to prevent exposure and spread of the virus. The ACLU also urged NJ to release elderly and pregnant prisoners amid the Covid-19 crisis. There are already reports of the virus spreading among prosoners and inmates in NJ prisons. 

Reports by NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees:

Locked Up But Not Forgotten – 2010

Immigration Incarceration: the Expansion and Failed Reform of Immigration Detention in Essex County, NJ-2012

23 Hours in the Box: Solitary Confinement in NJ Immigration Detention-2015

Isolated in Essex: Punishing Immigrants Through Solitary Confinement – 2016

DHS’s own report on conditions inside the Essex County Jail:

Issues Requiring Action at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, NJ – 2019