Activists Hit Pavement Over County Immigration Deal

Want contract with feds rescinded

Nearly 125 people marched to an Essex County jail Sunday afternoon in Newark, alleging county officials put money before human rights when they OK'd a contract with the federal government to house 1,250 illegal immigrants in exchange for cash.

The protesters argued the deal creates a breeding ground for inhumane treatment of the immigrant detainees.

The county's five-year contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement outlines a plan to house 800 of the 1,250 illegals at Essex County Correctional Facility on Doreums Avenue and the remaining 450 at Delaney Hall, a privately run prison, located on the same street. Anthony Puglisi, a county spokesman, said about 263 detainees are at Delaney Hall since the contract started Oct. 1. The deal will net Essex up to $250 million during the life of the contract.

"The county executive has come up with a concept that this is a wonderful opportunity to make money, but we feel this is making money on the backs of detainees," said Gregory Sullivan, 80, the program director of IRATE and First Friends, an advocacy group for immigrant rights. Sullivan's organization sponsored the nearly three-mile march that started at Peter Francisco Park and ended at .

At the park, the protesters listened to songs underlined with immigration themes by a Woody Guthrie cover band and held signs that read, "Immigrants are people, not commodities" and "Do not jail our neighbor." After nearly an hour at the park, the group marched for roughly two hours to the jail, chanting "Immigration, not deportation."

Kathy O'Leary, 43, who attended Sunday's march, said the contract "invites abuse" of the detainees, "The Essex County executive and the freeholders talk about incarcerating people for profit."

O'Leary, the coordinator of Pax Christi NJ, a Catholic organization advocating peace and justice, said she's met with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. and the county freeholders to ensure detainees' rights, "We worked with the county, but there's been little movement."

To help nudge the effort, O'Leary started an online petition at Change.org to revoke the contract and implement a community oversight board at Essex County Correctional Facility. So far, more than 2,400 people have signed the document.

During the march, the immigration advocates said the contract will exacerbate the inhumane conditions already reported at the jails, including restrictions to attorneys and family.

In August, when DiVincenzo announced the deal, Alix Nguefack, detention project coordinator at American Friends Service Committee, told this Patch reporter that her organization had received complaints about access to lawyers, lack of fresh water and smaller food portions within the past year at Essex County Correctional Facility. Such information was not provided for Delaney Hall.

O'Leary said those problems can be avoided by not jailing illegals, but instead using alternative methods, such as ankle bracelets or supervised releases.

Blanca Flores, 40, of Elizabeth, said she's an undocumented immigrant who was arrested in August and ordered to wear an ankle bracelet. The El Salvador native met protesters outside Delaney Hall after she went to see her incarcerated husband.

"I want to fight for my kids and for my family," she said in Spanish to the marchers. Flores said she was ordered to wear the bracelet because her husband, also an illegal immigrant, was in jail and there was no one else to care for her two children.

Sullivan said Flores' story epitomizes the marchers' call for the county to revoke the deal.

Puglisi, said, though, that's unlikely, "There's no plans to change the contract."

— Karen Yi contributed to this report.

Ryan October 11, 2011 at 12:19 PM
...adding: Particularly amusing are those restrictionists who appeal to history in support of their position ("a country ... built on [sic] immigrants") without apparently being aware that for the great majority of that history (and long, long after Columbus) the "legal way" to immigrate was to just show up.
Sara M October 11, 2011 at 02:59 PM
so true
Sara M October 11, 2011 at 03:10 PM
Why not educate the parents. Let them become productive in society and stop ripping off our system. The only group that benefits from these people are the West Orange bars. They party every week. They drink from 12 noon on Saturdays until, and then drive on the street at 2 a.m. I know you will decry me, but many of those detainees are alcoholics, not productive citizens who can qualify for a greencard anyway. Check it out, most of them were detained for breaking the law. We have great immigrants who deserve a chance at citizenship and I believe they should get that chance. However, we have those who hop from neighborhood to neighborhood on the weekends to drink and get drunk. We have a crisis in this town. The town could not afford to subsidize summer camp this year because our tax money is going to social policies for people who are ripping off our system. I cannot wait to canvass against the current mayor who won with less than 200 votes. My taxes just moved from $18000 to $24000, and our family do not benefit from this town. The socall immigration advocates are only loud mouth bullies who are out to rip these people off anyway.
Sara M October 11, 2011 at 03:12 PM
In humane, give me a break. The prisons are better than the shanty town in many third world countries.
Kathy O'Leary October 11, 2011 at 07:36 PM
To sign the petition follow this link http://www.change.org/petitions/oppose-expansion-of-immigration-detention-at-a-jail-accused-of-inhumane-conditions


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