ELIZABETH, NJ – Dozens of protesters rallied in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center Thursday morning, in an event that culminated in four arrests in an overall peaceful demonstration sparked by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials’ attempt to arrest an Elizabeth woman, Feb. 17.

The four who were arrested, one of whom was carried out, staged a sit down in the road in front of a banner reading Resist No More Deportations. The Detention Center, which is privately run by the Corrections Corporation of America, houses approximately 300 inmates. It has become what one of the organizers called “a lightning rod” for these demonstrations.  

The incident that prompted the demonstration occurred last Friday when ICE agents attempted to arrest a woman from a home on Broad Street. When there was no answer, the agents requested the help of Elizabeth police. Two officers responded and found that the woman in question was not home.

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Today’s rally was organized by several organizations, Make the Road, Blue Wave,  Wind of the Spirit, New Jersey Working Families and Faith in New Jersey. Members from the labor union 32BJ SEIU marched in as a group, chanting in Spanish.

Several audience members spoke to the crowd. “I am now a criminal because I don’t have documents,” Aracolis Hidalgo said through an interpreter. “I am afraid. I want them to stop the raids and close the detention center.  What is happening is that our families are being broken apart.”

The organizers called for the City of Elizabeth to adopt an executive order  that would protect immigrants from being seized by ICE. “The mayor had the power to issue an executive order ,” said Amalilia Mejia, director of New Jersey Working Families. “Every Elizabeth resident should hold the mayor accountable and demand an executive order.”

Wednesday, in an interview with TAPinto Elizabeth, Mayor Bollwage addressed this issue with the following statement, ““Any outside agency that requests the help of Elizabeth police needs to present the warrant to the chief or the officer in charge and a decision will be made in reference to the assistance requested.”

The rally had the support of State Senator Raymond Lesniak and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, both of whom are running for governor, Freeholders Bruce Bergen and Bette Jane Kowalski, and Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau. All spoke to the crowd.

“We are the place where people go when they are unable to exist in their own country,” said Wisniewski.

Added Lesniak, “Mass deportations are un-American. It is not healthy for America. Get rid of the criminals in a heartbeat, but these are hardworking resident s of our community. They pay taxes. They obey the law, and they should not be torn away from their families, many of whom are American citizens.”

Freeholder chair Bruce Bergen pledged the support of the Board. Recalling his great grandparents who emigrated from Eastern Europe, he said, “Since then my family has lived the American dream. Those entering the country today deserve the same opportunity without the fear of having their families ripped apart for no legitimate reason, a chance to become citizens. That is all that most people want. The current administration in Washington has chosen to turn its back on 200 years of history of this country, establishing the U.S. as a nation of immigrants. This has led to the greatness that our country is. We must continue to fight for equality and opportunity for all. The Union County Freeholders continue to stand by the many immigrants that live in our county. We have and will continue to condemn the policies that are discriminatory, retaliatory or involve illegal detention.”

Added Freeholder Kowalski, “We need to all work together to protect immigrants. We are all immigrants. We cannot split up families. Here in Union County, our goal is to keep families together and protect all the immigrants who make up the beautiful, diverse  mosaic of Union County. With all of us together we can win this.”

Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau came to the podium changing, “Chanted “Stop Trump tyranny. We have been working with Make the Road and other organizations to make sure our diverse community is safe and that nobody, nobody regardless of where they come from, whether they are documented or undocumented, are ever marginalized in our community ever. They are protected. They are cared for. We love each other. We are here in unity, and the only way this is going to be successful is if our voices continue to be unified no matter how many different languages we speak. We have to speak it together. It is about peace and justice and human rights.”

This is the second rally, the first taking place Monday in front of City Hall, to take place in the city this week. After the rally at the Detention Center, the group then traveled to Congressman Leonard Lance’s office in Westfield.

Friday, Feb.24, The Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations Committee will receive testimony from invited guests, such as ACLU, Working Families Alliance, Seton Hall University’s immigrants’ rights clinic, Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services, Wind of the Spirit, American Friends Service Committee, Interfaith RISE, and Deportation & Immigration Response to Emergencies (D.I.R.E)., on the impact of the Trump administration’s executive orders on immigration and immigration enforcement. The hearing will be streamed live at: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/media/live_audio.asp.

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