The Essex County Freeholders convened on December 11 to decide on two policy proposals. One involved spending on parks. The other proposal was for an oversight committee for the Essex County Correctional Facility. Unfortunately for the freeholders, they were unable to conduct their agenda in peace because up to one hundred activists and community members arrived to voice their outrage. The room’s small capacity of sixty was unable to hold this crowd. Their main concern was Essex County’s relationship with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Essex County is the signer of a multi-million dollar contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigrants are held in appalling conditions in the Essex County Correctional Facility, a prison that doubles as a concentration camp. ICE violates the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by holding asylum seekers in camps like this one.
During the meeting, the Freeholders opened the floor to allow the community to respond to the parks spending proposal. “What I’d like to know about this ordinance and the 1.1 million dollars by the County of Essex for the construction of the riverbank park building. I would like to know exactly where that 1.1 million dollars is coming,” asked Stacy Greg of the Resist the Deportation Machine Network (RDM). “Is that the blood money that you take from the Essex Correctional ICE contract? Is that the blood money coming off the backs of black and brown people that are being detained?”
Another member of RDM, Jay Arena, was next on the microphone. He reiterated Greg’s concerns about where the money was coming from. He pointed out that Joseph DiVincenzo, the County Executive of Essex County, brags about the money he gets from his ICE contract, which is over $40 million. He went on to assert that the county should fund its parks, schools and hospitals by taxing the rich, not trafficking human beings.
The freeholders held a vote and passed the ordinance to create the park building. Next on the agenda was the oversight committee. This time, the crowd was divided. Although all the community members in attendance opposed the ICE contract, some supported the ordinance to create an oversight committee while others opposed it.
Jay Arena told the Phoenix why he opposes the ordinance: “We don’t want a better managed concentration camp. We want it closed,” he said. He went on to explain that the oversight committee was being “done in lieu of closing the camp.” Arena explained that the Freeholder President, Brendan Gill, has the power to end the ICE contract but simply chooses not to.
In fact, Brendan Gill was a vocal critic of ICE before holding his current office. Arena held his phone to the microphone and played a recording of Gill calling for the closure of the camp. But now that he has the power to close it, he chooses not to.
Another speaker was Estaban, an activist and member of the immigrant community. He delivered an impassioned call for Gill and the other freeholders to have mercy. “When you guys are at your dinner table with your children and your grandchildren, there’s going to be fathers and mothers who are in jail. And their kids are going to be eating dinner with that empty seat. Please have mercy on the families.”
In the end the freeholders passed the ordinance. Instead of ending the ICE contract, they put an ineffective bandaid on the problem. This was done to secure their progressive image while profiting off of Trump’s agenda. It was clear from the behavior of the freeholders that they were not concerned at all about the fates of ICE detainees. While speakers gave their passionate demands for humanity, the freeholders looked blank, bored and irritated. Some even played on their phones. It is clear that Democratic leadership will do all it can to support Trump’s agenda while adopting the rhetoric of resistance.