With Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the background, the 12th annual Ash Wednesday vigil for immigrants being held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention was held at Liberty State Park this morning.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The vigil was organized by Pax Christi New Jersey, First Friends of New Jersey and New York, the Archdiocese of Newark Justice for Immigrants Task Force, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program, the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, and the St. Joseph Social Service Center.
Pax Christi NJ Organizer Kathy O’Leary noted Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is the perfect time to host the vigil since its “40 days of repentance to highlight the immortality and the injustice and the cruelty of the immigrant detention deportation and enforcement system.”
“We are very happy to have a new occupant in the White House. It has been a terrible, awful, brutal, torturous four years for anyone watching what was going on, let alone those actually experiencing it,” she said.
“The cruelty of ICE does not rely on the occupant of the White House. We have been witness to families being pulled apart, to people being deported, including people who have spoken here.”
She noted one man was deported to Bulgaria after coming to the United States and denied asylum, and as a result, he is now forced to live there without his family.
O’Leary described one man identified as Dave Johnson who “caught up in the ‘crimmigration’ system,” detailing how has been transferred to ICE custody from the local police, missed the birth of a grandchild – all after being briefly freed.
“Sadly within a month, he was detained by ICE and sent on a plane very quickly to a country he had fled decades earlier. They did it without any kind of paperwork … His home country had no record of his birth,” she added
O’Leary also noted those incidents occurred during the Obama Administration.
“Until this entire system is dismantled, taken apart, abolished, whatever word you want to use until this system no longer exists, we will continue to see this cruelty and this hardship for families and friends and loved ones,” O’Leary exclaimed.
Sister Kay Coll, of St Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Pax Christi NJ, and the Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast, compared the situation of immigrant refugees to Jesus, who had to flee to Egypt from Israel early in life according to the New Testament.
“They have not been welcome, and given the asylum they have sought, given the better life they came here for, given the freedom they long for,” she said regarding undocumented refugees.
“We are here in solidarity with them and especially those who are on strike, a hunger strike,” Kay continued.
Many in the crowded raised their hand when asked if they were doing a solitary fast as well.
“Get ICE out of prison. Get ICE off the contract with prisons, with detention centers,” she added.
“On behalf of the Archdiocese (of Newark) and Cardinal Tobin we want to declare our solidarity with all our injured brothers and sisters who are torn apart at the border, for those who are in detention, for those who are in the shadows, for all those forced to live in less than human ways,” explained Father Tim Graff.
New Jersey is home to four immigration detention centers: the Bergen, Essex, and Hudson County Correctional Facilities, as well as 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 each of these counties pointed to the pending election of Democratic Joe Biden as a primary reason to maintain their long-standing contracts with ICE.
The Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders (now county commissioners) renewed their contract with ICE after a marathon meeting in November where the public comment spanned for nearly 10 hours prior to the vote.
Even after Biden’s inauguration, immigrants continue to be detained in New Jersey’s county jails and the Elizabeth Detention Center. Furthermore, the deportation flights continue, despite new guidelines issued under the new administration.