NEWARK, NJ - About a dozen protesters yesterday demanded Newark City Council pass a resolution to oppose Essex County’s agreement with the federal government to jail immigrants within the city’s borders.
City council says protesters should take their fight to the freeholders since the county has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And even though immigrants are being jailed within the city, they are detained at facilities operated by the county.
Protesters want city council to at least make a symbolic gesture against the county's contract, just like other local governments have done in Jersey City and Hoboken. Bradley Gonmiah, a 17-year-old from the Newark Students Union, was among those who spoke out at the city council meeting.
"I know you have very little jurisdiction over the matter, but you do have more power than you make it seem," said Gonmiah. "You all have the same power I'm exercising right now, and that's the power of influence. I know y'all can pass a resolution to help fix this problem, by telling the freeholders - who actually have jurisdiction over the ICE center - to fix it so we can maintain our status as a sanctuary city."
Essex County freeholders approved a five-year contract with ICE in 2011 to detain immigrants at the county correctional facility on Doremus Avenue. The county at the time stood to gain over $49 million annually from the federal government for providing beds at a rate of $108 per day, records show.
The most recent contract went into effect in 2016. In 2017, it slightly increased the rate the federal government paid for each bed to $117 per day, according to records obtained by TAPinto Newark through a public records request.
Many of the protesters at city hall were led by Jay Arena, who is running as an independent candidate for Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.’s seat in November.
“What side are you on?” Arena asked city council during public comments at the meeting last night. “In fact, your deafening silence has made it clear what side you're on. You're on the side of ‘Deportation Joe’ and Trump."
Councilman-at-Large Luis Quintana, who was filling in as council president at the time of the meeting, repeatedly called Arena’s public comments at the meeting a “campaign announcement.”
“I understand that this is a season for campaigns, but you have pressed your issue and made this your campaign - you've used this as a campaign announcement,” Quintana said after Arena spoke. “Sir, we respect what you're saying. We have no jurisdiction over the county jail. We have no federal jurisdiction. You need to call your congressional members and all need to call your freeholders and have that conversation.”
Protesters said they have already attended freeholders’ meetings to ask them about the issue.
Essex County spokesman Anthony Puglisi did not respond to a request for comment when asked if the county would continue with its contract. The president and vice president of the freeholders did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email seeking comment either.
The heated exchanges in city hall come amid a time when Newark’s sanctuary city status is being tested. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka last year signed an executive order declaring the city a sanctuary for immigrants.
But in June, Daniel Castro, an undocumented immigrant, was arrested by Newark police during a traffic stop. The police arrested Castro and held him for federal agents after they found he had an ICE arrest warrant for deportation from 2011.
The incident sparked an opinion piece by two Rutgers University - Newark professors, who rebuked the city for its "complicity" with ICE. Baraka responded by publishing his own opinion piece, where came out saying he opposed the housing of ICE detainees in Newark.
“Essex and Hudson Counties have long histories of working with federal immigration authorities, and, in the age of Trump, that cooperation must end,” he wrote.
The incident involving Castro is still being investigated and no officer has been disciplined yet, city spokesman Frank Baraff said today. Newark Corporation Counsel Kenyatta Stewart said at the meeting last night that any city police officer who helps ICE would be disciplined.
“I think it's important to note that at the current time, the City of Newark, it's employees - including the police - have not and will not tolerate anyone participating, working with ICE at all,” Stewart said.
The city spokesman said Baraka has not asked city council, which is aligned with the mayor, to pass a resolution opposing the county’s contract with ICE.
“He’s against it, but he has not asked them to do it,” Baraff said.