Jan. 27 was blustery outside the Essex County Detention Center in Newark, N.J. Representatives of 20 organizations, different generations, and many nationalities stood together in solidarity to demand that the Essex County Freeholders and County Executive Joseph DiVincezo immediately break the county’s contract with the ICE detention center. Newark has declared itself a sanctuary city, yet is the home of the largest detention center in the state. Passing drivers, primarily truckers, honked their horns in support of the action.

Protesters are united in the Resist the Deportation Machine Network, a coalition of faith leaders, activists, nonprofit, civic and political organizations working together to end the criminalization, detention, and deportation of undocumented peoples within New Jersey. The network is dedicated to the closure of the illegal ICE detention centers, and establishing equal rights for all people in the state of New Jersey. The group encourages worker and immigrant rights groups to take up this fight around the country.

ICE enters into partnerships with local law police through the 287(g) program. In New Jersey, county shareholders can elect whether or not they will participate in the program; the county’s contract allows them to withdraw from the program involving the detention center at any time.

At the same time, ICE arrests of area residents is on the rise. As of May 21, 2017, arrests of undocumented people in New Jersey increased by 20 percent, and deportations increased by 30 percent. Twenty-nine percent of Newark’s population are immigrants, as are 59 percent of East Newark’s population. ICE is targeting these immigrant communities, raiding homes without a warrant, and detaining people while they are dropping their children off at school.

Residents of Newark represent the greatest number of pending immigration cases in the state, (3,151), followed by Union (4,122), Elizabeth (1,896) and Plainfield (1,490).

Two days before the protest, two Indonesian people were detained after dropping off their children at school in Highland Park, N.J. One of the detainees is Harry Pangemanan, recently honored for his volunteer work rebuilding hundreds of homes along the Jersey Shore destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

Funds from detention of immigrants called ‘blood money’

Speaking at the Jan. 27 rally, Alejandro Jaramillo from the immigrant rights group Cosechea, described the funds that come from the detention of undocumented immigrants as ‘blood money.’ “We want funds that come from our communities used for good things such as education, for health care, not for jailing innocent people — people who are working hard — not for breaking up families.”

Carole Gay from NJ Industrial Union Council stated that, “These detainees are not criminals, they have not been charged with crimes. They should be free to return to their families and return to their jobs.”

Jay Arenas from Stop Immigrant Detentions in Essex County (SIDEC) addressed the narrative that blames immigrants for scarce public services. Arenas explained that politicians, like Democratic Senator Corey Booker, are destroying public services like public education by backing massive cutbacks.

Katy O’Brien from Pax Christi informed the protesters that detainees in the Essex County facility are exposed to fumes by passing trucks and a sewage plant that is down the street from the facility. She added that Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincezo lobbied for the ICE contract to incarcerate immigrants at the facility and considers it a great accomplishment.

Laura Muenton from the Party for Socialism and Liberation highlighted that detaining undocumented immigrants in the Essex County Detention Center provides revenue for Essex County. “Protections [for the immigrant community] should not suddenly fall away when a public institution decides to forge a contract with a private company for state revenue. Money can be found in alternative modes — tax the wealthy!” She added, “Politics seem to have no borders when the U.S. makes trade agreements that interfere with other nations. So why do borders make so much sense when people are [immigrating to the United States] to live?”

The action concluded with participants locking arms in front of the Essex County Detention Center chanting, “We will be back!”