UPDATED: ICE detainees at Kearny jail begin hunger strike in midst of COVID-19 outbreak

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees being housed at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny have begun in hunger strike in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak at the jail.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“The outbreak and ensuing hunger strike prove that rhetoric surrounding the supposedly good conditions at the county jails is totally false,” said Hector Oseguera, a member of the Progressive Democrats of Hudson County.

“These detainees are in mortal danger. We will continue to call on the Hudson County Executive and Bergen County Sheriff to end this disgrace by canceling their contracts with ICE.”

There is also a concurrent hunger strike amongst detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility, located in Newark, which also contracts with ICE and has 40 confirmed coronavirus cases, the Abolish ICE NY-NJ Coalition said this afternoon.

However, Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly disputed the characterization that what occurred is a hunger strike.

“15 detainees refused their lunch today only [and] no one declared a hunger strike. They took this action in order to press for a meeting with ICE staff. ICE officials are involved and met with the 15 detainees,” he said in an email.

“We are monitoring the detainees, they all have an ample supply of food and water/other liquids available to them. These detainees ate their dinners tonight.”

ICE, through the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations of Newark and New York City, also said they did not believe there were hunger strikes in either Hudson or Essex Counties.

As of Christmas morning, there were 17 positive cases at the Kearny facility, which has since ballooned up to “at least the high 30s,” sources, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told HCV.

Shortly after this story was published, Kennelly said that 35 inmates, one U.S. Marshals prisoner, and two corrections officers have tested positive.

“All of the regular inmate population has been tested for COVID-19 now. The remaining results should be reported within 24 hours. All ICE Detainees have been tested for COVID-19: of those, zero have tested positive,” he added.

Vocal opposition to the ICE contract in Hudson County has been consistent since November 24th, when the board of chosen freeholders renewed the agreement for up to the next decade by a vote of 6-3.

Last month, a hunger strike at the Bergen County jail in Hackensack lasted for around a month. Bergen and Union County have the other two county governments in northern New Jersey that also have agreements with ICE.

 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly.