Link to File
**Updated 3/20 10:50am**
Dear Bergen, Essex and Hudson County Officials and the Newark ICE Field Office:
Across the country, communities are in crisis as we acknowledge the serious health threat which COVID-19 poses to our communities and try to make the necessary adjustments for public safety. Yet, while major public events and gatherings have been cancelled, schools are closed, and hundreds of workers are being directed to stay at home, there is one area that remains a grave risk: spaces of incarceration. We urge you to immediately address the unique threat which COVID-19 represents for those detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody and to push for the release of all individuals detained in ICE custody Elizabeth and in county jails in Bergen, Hudson and Essex County facilities.
Two cases of Coronavirus have been confirmed at detention centers - both in New Jersey: a corrections officer at the Bergen County Jail, which houses ICE detainees, and an employee of the ICE detention facility in Elizabeth, NJ. Further, detainees at Essex County detention center have staged a hunger strike to protest poor conditions and high risk for contagion. And it now appears Hudson detainees have join. A Politico report just revealed that nearly 500 Homeland Security employees are quarantined, with at least 13 presumptive positive cases. It is only a matter of time before the effects of exposure to this virus in detention become disastrous.
Past abuse and neglect in ICE detention facilities leave much reason to worry. Across the years, serious outbreaks of infectious diseases such as mumps and varicella have occurred in detention centers across the country. Just last summer, the Bergen County jail had to quarantine four units because of an outbreak of mumps and chickenpox. Further, medical treatment in our local facilities is notoriously negligent and has been the cause of zealous advocacy over the years to improve conditions for those who are detained.
This should be cause for alarm for your offices. COVID-19 spreads faster and is more fatal in enclosed spaces like nursing homes, cruise ships, and prisons. The enclosed nature of immigrant detention centers coupled with the well-documented and consistent pattern of, oftentimes fatal, medical neglect customary at ICE detention centers is a recipe for the spread of disease.
According to the latest information provided by ICE, the current average daily population of people in ICE custody is 37,888 people. We must act now to protect these individuals as well as all of the employees in the facilities who will be at risk as well. In a letter dated 5 March 2020, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chief Human Capital Officer Angela Bailey wrote that “education and prevention are our strongest tools against infection.” She recommended, moreover, that DHS employees “practice good personal health habits, avoid unnecessary travel, refrain from handshakes or hugs as greetings, reconsider large in-person meetings, and clean hands and surfaces appropriately.” Beyond its own employees, however, it remains unclear what, if any, serious precautions DHS is actively taking to protect the health of those in its custody.
This call is now more urgent than ever. We call on our ICE and our county elected officials in Bergen, Essex and Hudson to push for a release of those detained at the county jails on their own recognizance so that they can safely shelter in place with their families and reduce the spread of this dangerous pandemic.