HACKENSACK, NJ — Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at Bergen County Jail have begun their second hunger strike of November as calls for their release amid the coronavirus pandemic continue.
On Friday, rabbis affiliated with T'ruah gathered outside the walls of the Hackensack jail in solidarity with those protesting for their freedom inside.
According to a member of Ridgewood for Black Liberation — who briefly livestreamed part of the demonstration Friday morning — about 10 people in total were present.
"Detainees are on hunger strike inside. Their suffering is on all o(f) our hands," said Rabbi Jonah Geffen, on Twitter.
Geffen was just one of the demonstrators who shared their experience on social media. See more below:
At the Bergen county Jail with a bunch of @truahrabbis. It’s time to #FreeThemAll Detainees are on hunger strike inside. Their suffering is on all o our hands. pic.twitter.com/zrDHYZA2h2
— Rabbi Jonah Geffen (@JonahGeffen) November 20, 2020
We are taught that Shabbat is a taste of the World to Come, a taste of justice. So prior to Shabbat, I gathered with @truahrabbis at the Bergen County ICE Detention Center where detainees are participating in a Hunger Strike, protesting their conditions. #FreeThemAll pic.twitter.com/juXnRNRTZ1
— (((Jesse Olitzky))) (@JMOlitzky) November 20, 2020
It’s too easy for NJ residents to drive right by Bergen County Jail and not realize what’s happening inside to ICE detainees. pic.twitter.com/NVrFtccWks
— T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (@truahrabbis) November 20, 2020
"It’s too easy for NJ residents to drive right by Bergen County Jail and not realize what’s happening inside to ICE detainees," said T'ruah, in a statement on social media Friday.
So what is happening?
First reported by Matt Katz of Gothamist and WNYC, Friday marks the sixth day of the hunger strike for seven detained immigrants, the second hunger strike this month.
The detained immigrants and advocacy groups hope for their release, where they can await a decision in their deportation case without fear of contracting the coronavirus while detained.
In response to a Friday email, a spokesperson from ICE-ERO Newark didn't confirm the details of the Gothamist's reporting, instead issuing this statement:
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. ICE does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers. Qualified medical personnel at each facility explain the negative health effects of not eating to detainees engaged in a hunger strike and closely monitor their food and water intake. Qualified medical personnel also continue clinical, mental health and laboratory monitoring to maintain the person’s health."
According to ICE statistics updated Nov. 18, the Bergen County Jail has reported a total of six coronavirus cases among ICE detainees, but has no active cases. The Essex County Jail also has no active cases, while the Elizabeth Detention Center has two.
The coronavirus has been a cause for concern within New Jersey jails throughout the duration of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the state released more than 2,000 inmates to try and control the spread of the virus, but 88 of those newly freed people were almost immediately placed in ICE custody, according to a Patch report.
"Eighty-eight inmates with ICE detainers who were released from New Jersey state prisons were taken into ICE custody on [Nov. 4]. All are violent offenders or have convictions for serious crimes such as homicide, aggravated assault, drug trafficking and child sexual exploitation. Some were placed in removal proceedings and housed in ICE facilities outside of NJ, while others were detained locally pending execution of their final orders of removal," an ICE-ERO Newark spokesperson told Patch, in a statement at the time.
This isn't the first time Bergen County Jail has been in the crosshairs of immigrant advocacy groups.
Reports of air conditioning failure at the jail during a heatwave this summer were met with conflicting reports from jail officials — who said temperatures remained around 70 degrees — and immigrant advocates, who said that was a lie.