This is to welcome Whitney Strub to Blue Jersey. I asked Whit to write this for us after I saw his great piece in The Nation, ‘New Jersey is Addicted to ICE,’ linked below. Whit is an associate professor in the history department at Rutgers-Newark and a member of the North Jersey Democratic Socialists of America. Promoted by Rosi.
It’s hard to say you’re resisting Trump when you’re taking $35 million annually from his pernicious gestapo goons at ICE, but that is the rather implausible claim our local Democratic leaders nonetheless make here in Essex County.
Since signing a contract with ICE in 2011, county executive Joseph DiVincenzo has been able to amass a sufficient financial reserve to recently win the county its first Moody’s Aaa bond rating—on the backs of the immigrants living in squalor at the county jail he runs. Meanwhile, the complacent freeholders say and do almost nothing, ignoring year after year of well-documented reports about the atrocious conditions for detainees, until a damning recent inspection report from none other than the Department of Homeland Security itself forced them to hold a single hearing.
Some other Democratic counties in the US contract with ICE, though nowhere on the scale of the three adjacent North Jersey counties of Essex, Hudson, and Bergen, the first two of which house two of the three largest immigrant detention centers in the nation (both, like Bergen, located in county jails). The glaring contradictions of these arrangements, in some of the deepest blue counties in the country (Trump barely scored 20% of Essex’s vote in 2016) are what drew the attention of The Nation, which published my piece “New Jersey is Addicted to ICE” last week.
The piece outlines the hypocrisy of promising resistance while quietly profiteering on immigrant suffering and assisting ICE in its cruel detention and deportation machine. Particularly galling is the way North Jersey Democrats dodge the complicity of their colleagues by consistently holding their “resistance” protests at the privately-run Elizabeth Detention Center, while avoiding so much as a mention of the Democratically run ICE jails (Hudson County, where the mayors and city councils of Hoboken and Jersey City, is the slight exception here, though its freeholders renewed their ICE contract last year and attempted to spin it as resistance).
I’ve been involved in the campaign to abolish ICE for a few years, and this movement needs to focus on both national policy and local complicity. We need our federal Dems to stop funding ICE and its nativist terrorism, and we need our local Dems to stop exploiting Trump’s cruelty to quietly fund our counties (they say it keeps taxes low, but more accurately, it funds a bloated, socially destructive, and unnecessary corrections budget).
Last October, Essex County freeholder president Brendan Gill suggested the possibility of a public hearing on the county contract with ICE (rather than just on conditions in the facility), but claimed, “there’s not a consensus that the county should get out of the contract at this point.” Since then, speakers at freeholders meetings have come from a diverse set of groups: Cosecha, Democratic Socialists of America, registered Democrats, Green Party, SOMA Action, Jobs and Equal Rights for All, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Unitarian-Universalist Faith Action NJ, Catholic and Baptist religious leaders, and more. Not at all agree that the contract should be ended immediately, or even at all, because we all care about what happens to current detainees, but every single speaker on the topic since last July—and it is, overwhelmingly, the #1 resident issue at every freeholders meeting—finds it unacceptable for our Democratic county to profit from ICE’s punitive and unnecessary detention policies.
The freeholders recently pledged $750,000 for detainee legal representation. It’s a start, after years of providing nothing as detainees desperately resorted to crowdfunding legal defenses, but at about 2% of what they take from ICE, it’s a drop in the bucket. This campaign will continue until our local Dems stop their complicity with ICE, and make Essex County as safe a welcoming community as possible for our immigrant residents.
Photo credit: 2018 protest outside Essex County Detention Center, by Malik Dessalines at Liberation News.