ICE Detainees at New Jersey Facility Launch Hunger Strike Over COVID

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Immigration rights protest, Washington DC 2016. Photo by Susan Melkisethian via Flickr.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees at a New Jersey jail have begun a hunger strike, demanding they be released amid a reported coronavirus outbreak at the facility, a local anti-ICE group announced, reports nj.com.

Kathy O’Leary of Pax Christi New Jersey, a member of the Abolish ICE NY-NJ Coalition, said there are an estimated 25 to 28 detainees striking at the Hudson County facility in Kearny. Detainees at the Essex County jail also launched a hunger strike on Monday, she said.

“People should not be incarcerated by ICE and people should not be incarcerated during a pandemic,” O’Leary said. “These jails are deadly with COVID-19.”

This is not the first announcement of a hunger strike at the Essex County Correctional Facility. In March, immigrants detained there organized a hunger strike in response to growing concerns about a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail.

In a statement  released at the time by New York City public defenders, the claim was made that conditions at the Essex correctional facility “have deteriorated to such an extent” that an entire unit launched a hunger strike and demanded ICE officials release them.

The more recent hunger strike follows an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Hudson County jail. As of Christmas Eve, at least 16 county inmates and one federal inmate had tested positive for the virus, said nj.com.

Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly noted on Monday that no ICE detainees are currently infected with the virus.

The ICE lockup at the jail “has been a lightning rod of controversy” since the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders voted 6-3 to renew the county’s contract with ICE on Nov. 24, despite 10 hours of public comment in opposition.

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