At ICE’s Whim: Detained Immigrants Speak Out on Brutal Transfers

Issue 265

Jersey detainees were recently scattered across the country, as far away as Louisiana and Nevada.

Amba Guerguerian Jul 30, 2021

This article uses passages from a previously published interview with detention attorney Jordan Weiner.

Amid growing public pressure, Essex County announced in April that it would end a 13-year-long relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and no longer house people detained by ICE at Essex County Jail by August 23.

Since Essex County’s April announcement, detainees and advocates have been protesting for ICE to release detainees on parole as they empty out Essex County rather than transfer them to states far away from their lawyers and loved ones.

In what many see as a retaliatory act, ICE is transferring the people detained at Essex rather than releasing them. Around 50 people were transferred out of Essex County Jail between June 28th and 29th.

Since the spring, immigrants have been transferred to states all around the country, including as far as Louisiana and Nevada.

“We had some clients that were transferred to a facility in Nevada and then they were transferred again on the same day,” said Jordan Weiner, a pro-bono detention lawyer with American Friends Service Committee whose clients were transferred from Essex County.

In the early mornings of Tuesday, June 28 and Wednesday, June 29, detainees were removed from their Essex County jail cells by armed guards whose faces were covered by balaclavas. Edwin heard his friends being taken away. “They handcuffed them and shackled their legs like criminals. They left with only the clothes on their backs, without their papers, without any of their belongings, with nada, nada. They went directly to the van without saying absolutely anything at all. They didn’t perform the normal processing that they usually do when someone is being transferred out of state,” he told The Indy.

Later that day, Edwin spoke with Weiner and expressed how scared he was that he would be transferred without his belongings. His fears were affirmed early the next morning. A repeat of the morning before, only he was the one being shoved in the van. “The same thing: Lots of armed cops. No processing, no words, directly to the van.”

“We arrived at seven in the morning. They put me in a cold room. The police are bad here, they’re different. I don’t know what the laws are here. There’s no hot water.”

José (a pseudonym), who was also transferred on Wednesday the 29th, says that since a few days prior, there had been rumors traveling from one dorm to the next that 35 people would be transferred. Someone had caught a glimpse of a transfer list with 35 names on it. Following this news, around 40 detained men went on hunger strike on the Sunday or Monday before the transfers. “Someone from ICE came and said, ‘Okay, what’s going on?’ We said that our families are in New Jersey, and we don’t want to be removed from New Jersey. We want [to be released with] an ankle bracelet or bail. He said, ‘I don’t wanna hear that shit. I am not going to talk about this.’ He turned around and left,” José told The Indy.

José said ICE ended up transferring more people than the 35 names on the original list. “There was a guy who was the leader of the hunger strike and they added him to the list,” he said, suggesting the additional transfers were an act of retaliation.

José and Edwin were transferred to Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They both say that the conditions are worse than at Essex County Jail. “We arrived at seven in the morning. They put me in a cold room. The police are bad here, they’re different. I don’t know what the laws are here. There’s no hot water,” said Edwin. He added that detained people who work jobs at the Massachusetts jail don’t receive any compensation for their labor. This is even worse than the $21 to $32 per week that Essex county Jail pays for what often come out to be eight-hour workdays.

A deportation officer in Plymouth told Jordan Weiner that her clients’ belongings were transferred but that they wouldn’t see them until release. She is skeptical as to whether they will ever hold again their missing possessions. For José, that includes $150 worth of personal hygiene articles, $200 worth of food, $200 worth of clothing, his tablet and his USB drive which has both personal files and files that he needs to fight his deportation case.

Upon arrival, Eric and José’s shoes were taken and they were told to buy new ones. “I had been wearing my new shoes for one day — I had just bought them in Essex — and they took them from me when I got here — the same kind they sell here, white, without laces. And now they want me to buy new ones for $55,” said José.

“I have been cold. I have been hungry. And you took everything, we have nothing. Not our clothes, not our food,” he added. “They are saying, ‘Buy new stuff.’ But how? You don’t know the problems my wife is dealing with. You don’t know the troubles she’s having feeding my kids. And my mother works seven days a week to give me $100 to buy food. I lost $600 worth. And they put our stuff in the trash, as if everything that pertains to us is trash. These people are racist There are other guys here and they were allowed to keep their belongings. Why not us?”

Both men report prices much higher than those at Essex County. “If something is $1 at Essex, it’s $3 here,” says
Edwin, who has not been able to buy new shoes. Phone calls are $0.14 a minute, rather than Essex’s $0.50 for 20 minutes.

Protesters chained themselves together in front of the gates of 600-640 Frelinghuysen Ave., the office park where the processing site is located, for five hours.

Weiner has not been able to find a feasible way to communicate with her clients in confidence. Her organization is currently using a video chat service called JurisLink that charges $139.99 for an hour-long call. “That’s prohibitively expensive,” she said. “My clients have a statutory right of access to counsel and they’re interfering with that…My opinion is that it’s unconstitutional to make you pay to talk to your client. The due process amendment applies to everyone, citizen or non-citizen.”

“We don’t plan to stop repping anyone but it srains us so much to have to navigate all these new detention centers,” she said, adding that the same pro-bono programs don’t exist in Massachusetts.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a June 30 complaint that, if approved, would place a restraining order on the current transfers on the grounds that transfers are interfering with detainees’ right to counsel. The complaint was denied.

Since the announcement that ICE detention will end in Essex County, Bergen County Jail is now is no longer accepting new ICE detainees and there is now a 50-person cap on detainees at Hudson County Jail. The privately-run Elizabeth Detention Center is suing to break its lease because the conditions inside the facility are unsafe. In response to these moves, detainees have gone on hunger strikes in Essex, Bergen and Hudson counties demanding they be released, not transferred to other states where they will face greater challenges in fighting their deportation cases.

On July 20, Immigration justice activists blockaded ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations office in Newark, NJ, where detainees are taken and sometimes physically forced to sign their deportation and transfer papers before being moved. Protesters chained themselves together in front of the gates of 600-640 Frelinghuysen Ave., the office park where the processing site is located, for five hours.

“Just about two weeks ago, people were transferred out of Essex to other facilities across the country because Essex is ending their contract with ICE,” Haydi Torres of Movimiento Cosecha said at the Newark demonstration. “Ending the contract is not enough. We are fighting back to send the clear message that we want people to be released, not transferred!”

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