Activists Turn Up Pressure on President Biden Following Court Decision Betraying New Jersey Detention Ban

Regardless of Judge Kirsch’s decision, President Biden can shut down the Elizabeth Detention Center today

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By Alexa Gelbard,  Jenny Garcia, Detention Watch Network

NEW JERSEY- Today, U.S. Federal Judge Robert Kirsch granted a preliminary injunction against New Jersey’s immigration detention ban to private prison corporation CoreCivic. CoreCivic and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s contract would have originally ceased operations at the Elizabeth Detention Center on August 31, 2023, this Thursday. But following today’s ruling in a case brought by CoreCivic earlier this year, the contract is now expected to extend for an additional 12 months. The Elizabeth Detention Center, a converted warehouse prison notorious for its nearly 30 years of documented abuse, is the last remaining ICE facility in the state, and communities in New Jersey have been vocally demanding the Biden administration shut the facility down.

While outraged, community organizations are not surprised nor deterred by the judge’s decision, saying the Biden appointee provided signals of his support to CoreCivic during oral arguments on August 14. Envisioning beyond the limits set by the court, they will continue demanding people’s freedom and turn up the pressure on President Biden, who, regardless of the court’s decision, can shut down the Elizabeth Detention Center today and respect New Jersey’s democratic process.

President Biden promised to end the use of all for-profit prisons, yet, according to recent reporting by Reuters, private prison operators like CoreCivic and Geo Group are reaping profits under his administration. The Biden administration’s support for CoreCivic has angered communities across the country and impedes the progress of public safety for all immigrants. These decisions validate and embolden racist and harmful ideologies, including those at the bedrock of ICE’s mission. Biden’s actions starkly contrast the diverse and committed people of New Jersey and communities nationwide demanding an end to immigration detention.

Directly impacted individuals formerly detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center and local and national advocates who have demanded the facility be shut down for years offered the following reaction to President Biden and the federal court’s decision:

Yanet Candelario with The Mami Chelo Foundation, who was previously detained at Elizabeth, said:

“During the hearing, Judge Kirsch said that only two people had died in the Elizabeth Detention Center. Why doesn’t he tell that to their mother or children? No one should die in a place like the EDC, especially not due to neglect. When Biden became President, I was happy. I thought he would end the Trump era of terror, where children were separated from their parents and kept in cages like animals. I believed he would make a difference in a country where immigrants have fewer rights. I don’t think Biden knows that people are dying in immigration detention because they have been denied medical attention, but I also expect him to keep his promises and end a system that denies us our humanity.”

Li Adorno with Movimiento Cosecha, said:

“The Biden administration knows about the human right abuses at the Elizabeth Detention Center, and they are consciously choosing to continue working with private prison businesses like CoreCivic and GeoGroup. Biden, in joining this lawsuit, and the court, in issuing its decision, have disregarded the will of New Jersey residents who fought for years to ban ICE detention in the state, leading to the passage of AB5207 in 2021. Today Judge Kirsch and the Biden Administration have incentivized the creation of a base structure for a society based upon a carceral prison & indefinite detention mentality. Where few already rich people profit from abusing people detained in inhumane conditions while the government funds them and secures their future, like clockwork.”

Amy Torres with New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said:

“While we are bitterly disappointed in today’s decision, we also know this is not the final step. We are pleased that the Attorney General’s office has already shared their intent to appeal and our communities will continue to take this issue to the streets to demand the shutdown of the Elizabeth Detention Center. Ultimately, the Biden Administration could choose to close the EDC tomorrow and fulfill the promise he made our communities in 2021 to end for-profit immigration detention. We are concerned that the judge’s decision includes dramatic and inflammatory language. Painting New Jersey’s sanctuary law as a “dagger aimed at the heart” of immigration enforcement… New Jersey is a sanctuary state, and whether in the courts or in the streets, we will fight for our right to remain one.”

Ellen Whitt, Accredited Representative, DIRE Legal Services, said:

“Today’s decision is not about immigration enforcement. It’s about intimidation of immigrants who have already been determined to not be a threat to the US but who request asylum. It’s about silencing states and communities who act on their responsibility to protect the human rights of those who flee their countries. It is about valuing a profit making company above all else.”

Kathy O’Leary, region coordinator, Pax Christi New Jersey said:

“Judge Kirsch, in his decision in the case that CoreCivic brought against the State of New Jersey to keep the Elizabeth Detention Center open, spoke passionately about his concerns for the heart of the system of ICE detention. What he fails to recognize is that the system that he is attempting to protect has no heart. It cannot bleed and it cannot shed tears. To the contrary, the millions of people who have been kept in ICE’s cages can and do. The system of immigration detention is designed to inflict trauma, to steal the dignity and to deny the humanity of all who pass through it. Now the decision rests with President Biden whether he is going to continue propping up a system that steals people’s hope or if he is going keep his promise and start us on a path toward a system that treats people with mercy, care and compassion.”

Katy Sastre, Executive Director at First Friends of New Jersey & New York, said:

“First Friends volunteers have visited people detained at the EDC since 1997. Over the past 26 years, five different federal administrations have had the power to shut it down, and none have, regardless of party. We are not surprised by this decision, and we remain outraged that a place like the EDC will remain open to continue to traumatize and abuse more of our community members. We demand the Biden administration honor the will of New Jerseyans by closing the EDC today and more importantly, honor the dignity and humanity of immigrants by not subjecting them to the horrors of immigration detention.”

Charlene Walker, Executive Director at Faith in New Jersey, said:

“While for profit prisons loom in our communities they cast a shadow filled with trauma and disdain for honoring the dignity of God’s people by our government. Today’s ruling is a reminder that profiting off of Black souls, which are disproportionately impacted by the immigration detention and deportation machine, continues to be the ‘American’ way. President Biden’s administration has broken what trust we may have had in his administration through the support of one of the greatest prison profiteers. Yet there is still hope that at this crossroads President Biden will choose to chart a new way forward for the United States by honoring his campaign promises; so America no longer sees our loved ones as profits but families with dreams for a bright future. People of faith demand it!”

Stacy Suh, Program Director at Detention Watch Network, said:

“We are enraged by the Biden Administration’s decision to side with private prison corporation CoreCivic rather than with the people of New Jersey who have campaigned hard to end detention in their state. Public or private, detention is unnecessary and rife with systemic abuse and neglect. We demand the Biden Administration fulfill its campaign promise and shut down detention centers, including the Elizabeth Detention Center.”



Abolish ICE NY/NJ
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Project of Newark
Al-Awda-NY/NJ: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
Casa Freehold
Cosecha New Jersey
Deportation & Immigration Response Equipo (DIRE) Support Services & Legal Services
Detention Watch Network
Elizabeth Catholic Worker
Faith in New Jersey
First Friends of New Jersey & New York
Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East
Interfaith Campaign for Just Closures
Latino Action Network
Lazos America Unida
The Mami Chelo Foundation, INC
Make the Road New Jersey
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice
New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
New Jersey Forum for Human Rights
Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition
North New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America
Office of Peace, Justice, and Ecological Integrity/Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth
Party for Socialism and Liberation – New Jersey
Pax Christi New Jersey
Trenton Anti-Violence Coalition
Unidad Latina en Acción NJ
Universal Unitarians Faith Action New Jersey
Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center

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