Activists urge Biden administration to shut down Elizabeth ICE jail

Rally comes after judge’s ruling that allows jail to remain open

By: - August 31, 2023 7:05 am

At a rally on Aug. 30 after a federal judge ruled that a New Jersey detention facility can remain open, protestors criticized the judge’s stance and demanded officials shutter the facility.

Protestors gathered in Newark on Wednesday took aim at a recent federal judge’s decision that said a state law banning migrant detention centers is a “dagger in the heart” of federal immigration enforcement.

“We cannot stab a dagger into the heart of ICE. It has no heart, it’s not a person. The people in ICE’s cages — they can bleed, they can shed tears. That’s who we should be concerned about,” said Kathy O’Leary, director of Pax Christi, a faith-based immigrant advocacy group.

In front of the federal immigration building in Newark, about two dozen activists called for the abolition of migrant detention centers and the immediate closure of the Elizabeth Detention Center, less than 24 hours after U.S. District Judge Robert Kirsch issued a key ruling that will allow the center to remain open.

Kirsch’s Tuesday ruling says part of a 2021 state law that barred CoreCivic, which has run the detention center since 2005, from renewing its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is unconstitutional, siding with CoreCivic that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause (the state Attorney General’s Office said it will appeal the decision).

CoreCivic’s contract with ICE was set to expire Thursday. When asked if it has been renewed, CoreCivic deferred to ICE officials, who declined to comment.

Immigrant advocates said they weren’t surprised about the decision following comments during an Aug. 14 court hearing where Kirsch said if other states passed laws similar to New Jersey’s banning immigrant detention, it would be a “contagion across this land.” He also described the potential shuttering of the Elizabeth Detention Center as catastrophic.

“In the back of my mind, I knew he was going to more likely go in favor of this,” said Li Adorno of Movimiento Cosecha. “For me, I need to make sure people have the information so they can know the context of the fight and that this has been fought for decades, and it will keep being fought.”

Li Adorno of Movimiento Cosecha speaks during an Aug. 30 rally in Newark calling for the closure of the Elizabeth ICE jail.

Throughout Wednesday’s rally, protestors urged the Biden administration to close the facility and stop Department of Justice officials’ push to continue detaining migrants in New Jersey. Adorno said he’d be at the next event Biden attends in New Jersey and is urging his fellow activists to make calls to the president’s office.

“He could actually shut down the Elizabeth center at any moment, any given day,” he said. “If he wants to keep New Jerseyans happy, that’s what the people voted for, and that’s what we want. This is it — his time to shine, and he’s not shining.”

The activists also called on more lawmakers to speak out on this issue. Just three members of the state’s congressional delegation have issued statements in support of shutting down the detention center following Kirsch’s decision. Last week, eight of New Jersey’s House Democrats and both its senators penned a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to reconsider its decision to side with CoreCivic in its case against New Jersey’s 2021 law.

Activists say they also need more direct action in D.C. from their members of Congress, and asked lawmakers to communicate their concerns directly to the president. And they want to see more outspokenness from Democrats in the state Legislature and local municipalities.

“The Democrats’ hands are dirty here. If they want to shake off that stench of being involved in this very dirty business, then they need to speak out,” said O’Leary. “A lot more people should be standing behind us and this law.”

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.