Elizabeth Detention Center Could Close This Summer

A Decades-Long Stain on Immigrant Justice in NJ

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Kathy O’Leary, Pax Christi NJ and Jenny Garcia, Detention Watch Network

June 19, 2023

Elizabeth, New Jersey – Local New Jersey groups gathered Saturday in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) taking turns reading immigrant testimony of the prison’s nearly 30-year history. The EDC’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is set to expire on August 31, 2023. Part of a campaign to ‘Make the EDC History’, testimonies began in the 1990s when ICE was not yet a government agency. Twenty-eight years ago this weekend,  an uprising in response to inhumane and unsanitary conditions and physical, emotional, and sexual harassment and abuse by guards closed the facility, which was then known as Esmor. The uprising led to a federal investigation and  report in which INS sided with the people detained there. The uprising marked the beginning of continuous protests inside and outside the facility over the warehousing of people at the end of a private road in the port district of the City of Elizabeth.

Now in 2023, groups are calling on President Biden, Governor Phil Murphy, state representatives, and Mayor Chris Bollwage to close ICE jails and create more humane immigration policies. A moment of silence was held for Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez, who was laid to rest by her family fifteen minutes from the Elizabeth Center Detention at a cemetery in Linden, New Jersey.

CoreCivic, the EDC’s private prison operator, is currently suing Governor Murphy in a last ditch attempt to keep the facility open. However, it is also facing a lawsuit seeking its eviction from its landlord, Portview Properties- a subsidiary of a local real estate developer Elberon, whose management itself drew fire in the summer of 2020 when its relationship with Corecivic became public. Ironically, it was ICE’s reaction to a lawsuit to free people from the EDC during the pandemic that led to the revelation. After ICE deported Hector Garcia Mendoza  in retaliation for being a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, the community rallied and the owners of the building appeared on site to support its tenant, CoreCivic. Hector was picked up by ICE after an encounter with the Freehold Boro Police and detained in a facility that Mayor Bollwage swore after the uprising in 1995 that he would block the streets to keep it from reopening.

Organizers say that today is part of a series of actions this summer to ensure the pipeline funneling community members into ICE detention is cut, that people are freed, and that the EDC is never again used to warehouse people. Supporters are encouraged to donate bond and commissary funds to First Friends NY/NJ.

The program started with a recording of the poem, ‘You Cannot Detain Our Spirit,’ by Frank Lopez of the Peace Poets. The poem was written in 2013 as part of efforts to stop the expansion of detention beds and end ties between the Essex County Jail and ICE.

In addition to poetry, there was music. The Filthy Rotten System Band, a Catholic Worker band from New York that frequents rallies in front of ICE detention centers, played a powerful rendition of ‘Deportee’ by Woody Guthrie among other songs. Among the signs and banners were references to the two men who died as the result of severe medical neglect, Boubacar Bah and Victor Ramirez-Reyes.  Livestream including testimonies by people previously incarcerated  at EDC, read by some of the attendees.

The EDC is the last operating ICE facility in New Jersey. Three other local counties ceas ed detaining people for ICE in 2021 around the time that a state law was passed that prohibited any entity from renewing its contract with ICE or entering into a new contract to jail immigrants. Unfortunately, before Governor Murphy signed the bill into law, CoreCivic, the for-profit prison company that runs the detention center, was able to exercise an option to renew until the end of August.


American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program Newark
Casa Freehold
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
Deportation & Immigration Response Equipo (DIRE) Support Services & Legal Services
Detention Watch Network
First Friends of New Jersey & New York
Interfaith Campaign for Just Closures
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice
Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition
North New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America
Pax Christi New Jersey
Reformed Church of Highland Park
Still Waters Anti-Trafficking Program

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply