NEWARK, NJ — A crowd of organizers, immigrants and civil rights activists gathered in front of the Peter Rodino Federal Building on Thursday, Feb. 20, to protest a Trump administration plan to deploy specially trained tactical units to Newark, one of the nation’s nine sanctuary cities being targeted by the move. 

The demonstration comes days after Mayor Ras Baraka affirmed the city’s commitment to protect and advocate for its immigrant community, saying ICE tactical units will undermine the city’s efforts to build community trust. Organizers were also protesting a travel ban being issued against nationals from Nigeria, Sudan, Myanmar and three other countries with majority Muslim and African populations. 

“First, in terms of law enforcement, our policy protects undocumented victims. This population is prey for criminals and we want them to feel safe and comfortable in the care of our police,” Baraka said in a statement. “Our efforts to have good community relations and build trust with all our residents, must include the undocumented population, otherwise it is incomplete.”

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As part of a yearlong campaign, the city has pushed a number of outreach efforts to ensure the city’s undocumented community is counted as accurately as possible in this year’s census. Much like Trump’s proposed citizenship question, which was blocked in July 2019, the ICE deployments could have a chilling effect on the hard-to-count population. 

Alejandra Sortom, campaign strategist for the ACLU of New Jersey, said the tactic is one of fear-mongering from the White House designed to break down a sense of safety in communities like Newark. 

“Policies like this are set to intimidate not only the local government, which is striving to build trust within immigrant communities but in a year such as this year when we have the census,” Sortom said. “It’s one of the most important ways we can be represented right and get the resources for our communities that we need.”

Sortom added that the ACLU and other groups are working to counter the impact of the deployments by educating undocumented individuals about their rights and encouraging them to ensure their voices are heard. 

Ami Kachalia, another campaign strategist for the ACLU of NJ, emphasized a commitment to uphold Newark’s “Fair and Welcoming City” executive order as well as the state’s Immigrant Trust Directive. 

“The administration’s decision to send tactical CBP units to the streets of Newark and to other fair and welcoming cities around the country is clearly a retaliatory measure to intimidate local governments that have refused to do the bidding of the federal administration and to incite fear and terror in our communities,” Kachalia said. 

Organizers encouraged the community to be vigilant and to report any potential violations by the tactical units as they enter the city.

“Having to be underground is a very dangerous, frightful life-threatening proposition. I come from a political tradition where some of our freedom fighters have had to go underground,” said Baba Zayid Muhammed, an activist with People's Organization for Progress and Newark Communities for Accountable Policing. “Those of us who are above ground have to turn up the volume and put together the coalitions to put this kind of racist power out of office, out of our face and out of our communities.”