As the authors of a ThinkProgress article on Newark’s shortcomings as a sanctuary city that Mayor Ras J. Baraka recently lambasted as “yet another pathetic example of how some so-called progressives viciously attack each other rather than organizing and uniting to fight the real enemy in Washington,” we’d like to respond.
While we are sorry the mayor felt the need to employ such adversarial rhetoric toward two Newarkers who proudly voted for him, we are grateful to Mayor Baraka for stating clearly his opposition to Essex County’s collaboration with ICE. In 2011, Essex County signed a contract with ICE to detain immigrants in the county jail, and North Jersey Democrats have been remarkably quiet about it ever since.
When we were researching our piece, we could, and can still, find no direct public statement from the mayor on the immigrant detention center located here in Newark (though run, as the article clearly states, by the county).
Co-author Strub submitted a request for comment through the mayor’s official online portal in mid-July, several weeks before our article ran, and received no response. So the mayor’s clarification is truly welcome news.
We understand that Mayor Baraka cannot singlehandedly break the contract with ICE. But in next-door Hudson County, the mayors of Jersey City and Hoboken have expressly called for the breaking of their analogous county contract with ICE.
We call on Mayor Baraka to further clarify his position: does he support the termination of Essex County’s contract with ICE? Will he lead city council in passing a resolution in favor of termination (which Jersey City and Hoboken have also done)?
In his piece, Mayor Baraka lists Newark’s many contributions toward the safety and security of our undocumented community members: municipal identification cards, local school and university policies that do not consider immigration status, etc. We applaud all of that.
Mayor Baraka has been an outspoken critic of the racism and cruelty of the Trump administration, and we appreciate his fiery passion in denouncing the domestic terrorism inflicted on immigrant communities by ICE, a destructive gestapo force that we believe should be abolished.
But while we commend the mayor for his opposition to federal policy, that is not what our piece was about. It was about the stickier, more complicated question of local complicity, in the form of Essex County’s collaboration with ICE.
Newark didn’t put ICE’s victims in the county jail, located deep in the Ironbound, but the fact is, a contradiction remains: it is some cold, hard “sanctuary” to house one of the nation’s three largest immigrant detention centers, with hundreds of people guilty of no crime held inside.
Newark might not have created the situation, but we all, including the mayor, have a moral duty to resist and oppose this injustice in our own backyard.
Speaking out, and loudly, seems the least one can do.
So, we are glad to read Mayor Baraka writing that “Essex and Hudson Counties have long histories of working with federal immigration authorities, and, in the age of Trump, that cooperation must end.”
While the mayor stops short of specifically calling for termination of the county contract that allows Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. to fund the animals in cages at the county zoo through the suffering of humans in cages at the county jail (and we also support the liberation of those unjustly incarcerated there on non-immigration-related offenses), we hope that Mayor Baraka will further clarify his position. One useful resource that has informed us is the #WeWon'tBeComplicit guide by the immigrant-led activist group Cosecha.
While Mayor Baraka calls our piece an “attempt to divide us,” we doubt he actually believes that. Before being elected, he set a powerful example of challenging leaders by speaking truth to power; that is how politics works and is not inherently divisive.
We love Newark and its inspiring histories of immigrant communities, Black Power, and political dissent. We care deeply about our undocumented neighbors, including those already caught in ICE’s snare. We support Mayor Baraka in his fight against Trump.
But our enemies aren’t just in Washington, they’re also down the block from City Hall, where inside ICE’s field office resides New Jersey spokesman Emilio Dabul, whose intimate associations with Islamophobic hate groups have led six New Jersey Democratic congressional representatives to call for his firing. Where is the mayor on that?
Trump needs to be resisted, but so does Democratic collusion with ICE. It’s true we can’t dictate federal policy from Newark, but by quietly assenting to our county doing ICE’s dirty work for blood money, we facilitate its ugly agenda of hunting undocumented people for no good reason except nativism.
ICE is strong, but it isn’t omnipotent; just this week, we learned that it has been irresponsibly siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other agencies to feed its bloated and unsustainable budget. Even Republicans are wary. Every wrench we throw in its gears further raises its costs of doing business and helps slow down its detention and deportation machine.
In Hudson County, Jersey City and Hoboken have taken strong stands against their county’s contract to profiteer off ICE’s cruelty. Here in Essex County, Newark could easily do the same.
We call on Mayor Baraka to translate his words into action and lead the way in bringing resistance home and making Newark a genuine sanctuary.
Whitney Strub is director of the Women's & Gender Studies program at Rutgers University-Newark. Mary Rizzo is an assistant professor in the History department at Rutgers University-Newark.