Immigrant/Migrant Supporters Tell ICE #ReleasesNotTransfers

As New Jersey Jails End ICE Contracts, ICE Transfers Detainees to New York

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By Terri Kay

On Wednesday, October 27, a coalition of groups, who have been fighting the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, policies of cruel, indefinite detention of immigrants/migrants, held a rally with over 30 people at Bergen County Jail in New Jersey. Organizers stated,

“Even if they are transferred, we will continue to be there for them–friendships continue. We will send a message to ICE, elected officials, and the government that transfers are incredibly destructive and must stop. And we will say also that while we are glad that Bergen will no longer be a detention center, the fight against detention will continue until all ICE centers in NJ and around the country are shut.”

This was on the day before the Bergen County Jail ended its contract with ICE to hold ICE detainees. Bergen was the last county jail in New Jersey to do so, under a statewide directive. Demands focused on these slogans: #CommunitiesNotCages, #ReleasesNotTransfers, and #JustClosures. Per the New Jersey Monitor:

“All three publicly run federal immigration holding centers in New Jersey have ended their contracts in the wake of a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy banning new or renewed contracts with ICE. Murphy signed the law after years of protests by immigrant advocates who challenged the Democrats who run Bergen, Essex, and Hudson counties to stop taking money from ICE.”

However, a private prison in Elizabeth, New Jersey continues to house ICE detainees, having just renewed its contract with ICE until 2023.

Instead of releasing these detainees, ICE was planning to transfer most of them to a jail in Batavia, NY, five hours away. This would rip these people away from their entire local support networks of family, friends, lawyers, and support organizations. “We also want to make it clear to ICE and our legislators that even as NJ’s ICE facilities depopulate – It’s Not Over! We will continue to work for the release of our friends and the end to all ICE detention,” said Kathy O’Leary of Pax Christi – NJ.

Organizations behind the rally included the Interfaith Campaign for Just Closures, Pax Christi-NJ, Northern NJ Sanctuary Coalition, and First Friends of NJ & NY. The Interfaith Campaign for Just Closures launched last month. From the press release for the rally:

“Its members are calling on our legislators to work with family members of people in detention, attorneys and advocates to cut the current ICE contracts and bring about just closures to these facilities. The campaign defines ‘just closures’ as releasing people and not transferring them to other facilities, fewer people in cages and an end to profiting from incarceration. The campaign further urges legislators to work to dismantle the infrastructure of ICE detention nationally starting with supporting HR536 ‘A New Way Forward Act’.”

This rally was preceded on October 22, by a rally in downtown Newark, NJ, on behalf of Haitian immigrants/migrants. It was organized by Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast, League of Haitian American Diaspora Alliance Network, New Jersey Haitian Pastors Association, American Friends Service Committee, and New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, among others. Black migrants are more likely to be targeted by ICE for deportation, they are detained for longer and are more likely to be placed in solitary while in detention. For more on this see this video.

ICE Transfers Most of Bergen County Detainees to Batavia, NY!

From a November 15, 2021 press release by First Friends of NJ & NY, Pax Christi NJ, and Northern NJ Sanctuary Coalition:

The hope that there would be releases and not transfers for the remaining 15 people in ICE detention in the Bergen County Jail were dashed Friday,  November 12th as all were moved hundreds of miles away to Batavia, New York.

“Just after the stroke of midnight, people were roused from their sleep and told that they were being transferred. At least one person was able to place a call to a family member to let them know what was happening before they were placed in vans and driven through the night, for seven hours, arriving after dawn on Friday morning at the Buffalo Service Processing Center. Several people were able to make calls to volunteers from First Friends of NJ & NY early Friday evening and Saturday to explain what had happened to them. None were able to take any of their personal belongings with them, including paperwork necessary for them to help defend their deportation cases.

“…While our friends have been transferred further away, there is still hope that they will be released. ICE has the sole discretion to release people in detention and our elected officials have influence over ICE. All our friends deserve to be home, in their communities, surrounded by their families, not incarcerated indefinitely simply because of their immigration status. The struggle is not over until all our friends are free and ICE detention is ended in the United States.”

ICE Tries To Deport Liberian Migrant Who Had Been In U.S. Since Childhood

Romeo Konneh, one of the men who was transferred to Batavia, was then transferred to Florence, AZ. ICE was trying to deport him. He is in poor health and in need of an operation. He is one of the men who recorded messages while still at Bergen. He has a wife and 4 children living outside Philly.

As of this writing, without further intervention, Romeo will be deported Monday.

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