Demonstrators with a group called Resist the Deportation Machine took their protest against immigration jails to the front door at Essex County’s administration building Friday morning and stood, blocking the entrance, demanding to speak with County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. Sheriff’s officers asked them to move. They refused.
But the angry confrontation escalated until officers forcibly grabbed and shoved the protesters away from the entrance.
The shouting showdown ended with officers arresting eight of the demonstrators, leaving the others deeply shaken as a sergeant tried to calm things down.
“All I need you to do is get away from the door. You can protest all you want. We’re here to protect you,” said Sgt. Mike Minichini with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.
“Some of those people who were arrested, one of them’s a senior citizen, and I think it was totally uncalled for. I think they resorted to violence as their first instinct,” said demonstrator Karl Schwartz.
The group wants DiVincenzo to cancel a contract with the federal government that pays Essex to hold hundreds of immigrants arrested by ICE at its county jail at more than $100 a day per person. The issue has pushed political candidate Jay Arena to run against DiVincenzo on the immigration issue.
“We don’t want Trump dungeons, Trump concentration camps, and we don’t use that term lightly. People are being detained without criminal charge,” Arena said, “Financing the county budget by this blood money, trafficking human beings.”
The Essex County executive had no comment on the ICE contract. Essex isn’t the only New Jersey county that jails immigrants for a fee.
Hundreds of immigrants linger in county lockups in Bergen, Essex and Hudson Counties. The Elizabeth Detention Center is run by a private contractor, and it’s there that Democrats recently chose to gather to protest the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy that separates families.
But protesters want contracts at all facilities voided, even those run by Democratic executives in New Jersey.
“All across the country, people are doing exactly what we are doing here and succeeding,” said protester Eric Lerner. “Local governments, county governments, city governments are saying no to ICE. We are ending these contracts.”
Lerner and Arena were among the eight arrested. Seven were charged with blocking a public doorway, one with disorderly persons. They were released later. The sheriff had no comment on the incident.