Organizations mark their 25th year in struggle to end immigration detention in New Jersey

New Jersey-On Wednesday February 17th beginning at 10 am organizations including Pax Christi New Jersey and First Friends of New Jersey & New York will gather for a vigil in Liberty State Park. This will be the 12th year that they are gathering within sight of both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to lament the cruelty to which migrants coming to and living in the United States are subjected and the 25th year that they are marking Ash Wednesday with vigils and actions devoted to ending immigration detention in New Jersey. Participants will gather near the bridge to Ellis Island for a morning prayer vigil that will include directly impacted people, clergy an people of faith.

In addition to the in-person event, people are invited to join two virtual events. Nearly 50 people have already registered for a Solidarity Fast and more have signed up for a virtual vigil and panel discussion from 7-8:30 pm. Participants in the Solidarity Fast will be asked to recall and uplift the many men and women in immigration detention many of whom have been engaging in hunger strikes at facilities across the country and here in New Jersey since the beginning of the pandemic.

The panel discussion will include Rev. Leeann Culbreath, a founding leader of the South East Georgia Immigrant Support Network, Alina Das- co-director of the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic and Stacy Suh, organizing director for Detention Watch Network. The panel will be moderated by Giselle Holloway, the executive Director of First Friends. Topics will include local site fights to close detention facilities and advocates expectations for the Biden administration.  

Who: Co-sponsored by- Pax Christi New Jersey, First Friends, Archdiocese of Newark Justice for Immigrants Task Force, AFSC Immigrant Rights Program, Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless and St. Joseph Social Service Center.

What: Prayer vigil at 10 am, all day solidarity fast and virtual vigil & panel discussion from 7-8:30 pm.

Where: At Liberty State Park, next to the bridge to Ellis Island and on-line. Register for the panel discussion at

New Jersey is home to four immigration detention centers- the Bergen, Essex and Hudson County Jails and the Elizabeth Detention Center. The counties, which are controlled by Democrats, contract with ICE in exchange for up to $120/person/day. At the end of last year, officials from all of these counties pointed to the pending election of Joe Biden as reason to keep these long standing contracts with ICE. The Hudson County Freeholders (now commissioners) voted on November 24th to allow the Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise to contract with ICE for “the longest period of time allowed by law”, despite promising two years earlier to exit from the contract by the end of 2020.

There is a possible end to this practice in sight in New Jersey with a bill that was recently introduced by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson which would keep counties and private corporations from renewing, expanding or entering into new contracts with ICE.

However, even after the inauguration of President Biden people continue to be incarcerated in NJ’s county jails and the Elizabeth Detention Center. Further, the deportation flights continue, despite new guidelines from the Biden Administration. Of particular concern are the people being forced to return to Cameroon and Haiti. “The new tone is welcome, but kind words are of little consolation to people who are being deported to unstable, and sometimes dangerous and life threatening conditions,” said Gene Squeo, member of Pax Christi NJ and co-founder of the Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast.

“What First Friends and its allies know is that the brutality of ICE and the immigration detention and deportation system spans multiple administrations. As long as the system persists the cruelty will continue,” stated Lorna Henkel board member of First Friends of NJ & NY.


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