Dozens of activists blocked entrances to a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) field office, the investigative arm of DHS, in Newark on Tuesday to protest the transfers and deportations of detained immigrants in New Jersey. The field DHS office looks to be the last stop before individuals are deported or transferred, according to activists who have been tracking the movements of detained immigrants. Demonstrators attempted to halt those processes completely on Tuesday.
Haydi Torres, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant rights group, had been at the DHS office since about 6 a.m. Through various conversations with transferred immigrants and their advocates, organizers figured out that U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents were taking detained immigrants to this HSI field office before they were flown out elsewhere, Torres said. For weeks, activists worked to plan this action to cut off ICE’s ability to process detained immigrants at the site in hopes that their moves would be delayed, activists said.
“It has taken a lot of work,” Torres said. “We all have this one demand—which is releases, not transfers.”
In recent months, detained immigrants have been quickly transferred away from New Jersey facilities with little or no notice to their attorneys and family members. Just last month, more than thirty detained immigrants were transferred away from Essex County Jail in Newark to states including Louisiana and Nevada. Last month’s transfer, ICE said previously in a statement, was “due to a request by the Essex County Correctional Facility to depopulate the remaining ICE detainees.”
The New Jersey detention facilities have been distancing themselves from ICE, with the most drastic step taken in Essex County, which ended its own contract with ICE earlier this year. Bergen County Jail in Hackensack is no longer taking new detained immigrants, a Sheriff’s County spokeswoman previously told Documented. In Hudson County, legislators and officials have publicly expressed that they would also be open to ending their contracts with the agency, and the developer that owns the building that houses the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility is suing to break the lease.
But instead of releasing the detained immigrants, which is what advocates are fighting for, ICE seems to be relying on transfers to simply shuffle individuals to places across the country where they can be held. “ICE-ERO Newark has no comment,” an ICE spokesperson said in an email.
At the action on Tuesday, organizers chanted through loudspeakers, held up anti-ICE signs, and raised their fists at trucks and cars who honked at the group of more than three dozen people in solidarity. Early in the morning, about nine people lay on the ground of the main entrance, banded together with lockboxes. Traffic piled up on the street in front of the building as vehicles were unable to access the facility. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Newark police and others people arrived in unmarked vehicles parked across the street, but did not disturb the protesters.
At one point, some frustrated individuals who worked in neighboring offices of the DHS office —which houses various businesses in addition to the HSI facility—and were attempting to exit, opened an alternate gate as vehicles flooded out of the parking lot, over a lawn and into the street. Some chastised the activists for blocking the entrance.
But advocates were not perturbed. “I’m not tired—are you guys tired?” one organizer yelled through the loud speaker. A resounding “no” rippled through the group.
On Tuesday, activists also put pressure on Governor Murphy to sign bill S3361/A5207 into law immediately, which would prohibit new, renewed and expanded ICE detention agreements in New Jersey. Although immigrant advocates have lauded passing on the bill in the state legislature, at the demonstration on Tuesday many expressed discontent with Democratic politicians who said they wanted to help immigrants, but who activists said were not speaking out to halt transfers and deportations.
“Democrats deport people too,” activists chanted.
Kalissa Sawyer, a 24-year-old organizer from New York was blocking a side entrance to the facility on Tuesday, linking arms with several other activists in front of a gate. “We’re here to basically blockade this center,” Sawyer said. “This is a movement. Everything pushes us into this direction to become more radical, and really stick up for the core of the community — put our lives on the line, put our bodies on the line.”
Transfers and deportations often happen on Tuesdays, Torres of Movimiento Cosecha noted, so activists hoped that their action could delay the movement of detained immigrants for at least another week. Unmarked vans did arrive at the facility on Tuesday but could not enter through the main entrance—activists said that ICE vehicles were forced to turn around due to the blockade, and deemed their mission successful. ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the action at the HSI field office delayed any transfer or deportations that were scheduled to happen on Tuesday.