Community Rallies Outside Trenton Court to Demonstrate Immigrant Livese are More Important than Profit and Prisons

Over 50 advocates from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania rallied on Monday morning in front of the Clarkson S. Fisher Federal Building and United States Courthouse to defend AB5207, a state law that prevents Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from renewing their contract with private prison corporation CoreCivic at the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC). Judge Robert Kirsch did not issue a decision but a written decision is expected before August 31, 2023 – the expiration of ICE’s contract with CoreCivic for EDC, the last immigration detention center in New Jersey. 

Groups are demanding that all people currently detained at the facility be freed, and that President Biden keep his promise to stop using for-profit prisons as ICE jails and stop supporting CoreCivic in its lawsuit against the state of New Jersey to keep the facility open. They will continue these demands this Sunday, August 20, outside of the Elizabeth Detention Center, for the second anniversary of New Jersey’s landmark detention ban.

Advocates went inside to observe oral arguments and were shocked to hear Judge Kirsch dismiss the negligent deaths of two men at the EDC as insufficient reason to close CoreCivic’s facility down. Rally attendees outside the courthouse shared their lived experience and testified to the permanent scars, injuries, and continuing mental health effects they carry with them from their time in detention. The coalition rallying in support of the detention ban argue that it’s not a question of whether a site is deadly enough – that the abuse inherent to the immigration detention system is argument enough to call for closure. The Elizabeth Detention Center has nearly 30 years of documented abuse, and despite state law and the overwhelming consensus from community members who want the facility closed for good, the Biden administration and ICE have expressed their intent to renew the EDC’s contract with CoreCivic for an additional 12 months, and Biden’s Department of Justice submitted a ‘Statement of Interest’ favoring CoreCivic’s lawsuit.

Advocates are angered that the administration continues to sideline immigrant communities and pour resources into continuing immigration detention, a deadly system dominated by private corporations.

Outside the federal courthouse, members of the community with direct experience with the Elizabeth Detention Center gave the following testimonies:

“There were no medical services. They would give us medical services when they wanted to. I have proof of how I’ve been marked for life that I would like to show everyone. Every time I share my testimony about what I lived at the Elizabeth Detention Center, I show this, “ shared Juan Regalado with Unidad Latina en Acción New Jersey showing the crowd marks on his back from an infection that was left untreated at the Elizabeth Detention Center.

“I’m the mother of six kids. About three months ago, my son was deported. He spent five years detained while waiting for asylum, which he was not given and requested to be deported. Now, immigration authorities have detained my other son for two years. This is hard to say because, as a mother, it is difficult when small children ask for their siblings. You can’t imagine how hard it is during birthdays to say they won’t be here,“ shared Rosa Contreras, mother and representative of American Friends Service Committee.

“It felt like a nightmare. The human rights violations are unbelievable. Denying medical attention is a common thing. Closing the Elizabeth Detention Center is the first step for families who have been destroyed by this place to heal,” shared Yanet Candelario, formerly detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center for thirteen months and Founder of The Mami Chelo Foundation.

“ICE picked me up when my baby was 11 months old. It was hard for me as a mother to leave five kids behind, especially when my youngest was so little. But what people don’t understand is that the impact of detention doesn’t end once you’re out. When you’re detained, you lose everything – your kids, job, apartment. I hope for the sake of other families like mine that we’ll finally see the Elizabeth Detention Center closed,” shared Danuska, formerly detained leader at the Elizabeth Detention Center and supporter of First Friends of New Jersey and New York.

“Can you imagine being in a place where you don’t see the sun? No windows. Your name is changed into a number. You are not called by your name anymore but they call you by number and you forget your name. You are a father, you don’t have access to your children. You want to be educated, but you don’t have access to education. You want to work. You don’t have access to work. They’re trading your future for money. Shackling and caging kill people slowly. No one is free until all are free! ” shared Edwin Koi, formerly detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center and Board Member of First Friends of New Jersey and New York.

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