Before Election Day, Immigrant Advocates Call on Biden Administration to Stop Attacks on Immigrants, Asylum Seekers

To kick off National Immigrant Heritage Month, advocates and activists rallied outside the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) to demand comprehensive protections for immigrants and an end to detention

Newark, NJ [June 1, 2024] The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ), the state’s largest immigration coalition, convened an Immigrant Heritage Month Day of Action that rallied artists, activists, and advocates outside the Elizabeth Detention Center, New Jersey’s last remaining immigrant detention center.

The event serves as a kick-off to both National Immigrant Heritage Month and a countdown towards November’s election as New Jersey prepares to vote in Tuesday’s primaries. Advocates decried that 2024 marks yet another election cycle where immigration is an increasingly polarizing and divisive issue, even amongst previously dependable allies. Attendees included Congress Members Andy Kim and Robert Menendez Jr. both who underscored the urgency for Congress to act, and called on their colleagues to fight for their state, where nearly one in four residents is foreign-born. 

“Instead of supporting immigration that has contributed so much to the strength of our nation, too many politicians are pushing cruel policies that dehumanize families and kids seeking the very same opportunities and security that compelled my parents to immigrate to America half a century ago,” said Congressman Andy Kim. “Let us work together in New Jersey to protect the value and heritage of immigration and ensure that people are treated with humanity and dignity.”

“As a dedicated advocate for immigrant rights, I am proud to represent New Jersey’s Eighth Congressional District, where 44% of residents are foreign-born,” said Congressman Robert Menendez Jr. “New Jersey has always been a welcoming place for people from all backgrounds. That's why I stand firmly against immigrant detention centers like the Elizabeth Detention Center and other anti-immigrant policies that go against our values and the aspirations of our communities. We must work towards an immigration system that embodies our American values of fairness, dignity, and respect for all individuals.”

I am a long-time supporter of overhauling our broken asylum system and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals in our communities,said Congressman Frank Pallone.The United States must live up to its standard as a beacon of hope and opportunity for families fleeing violence and repression in their home countries.”

Central to the rally's message was a poignant focus on the plight of asylum seekers fleeing persecution and violence in their homelands. Advocates urged the Biden Administration to resist yielding to anti-immigrant sentiments and policies that seek to adopt a hardline stance on border control and undermine the right to asylum. They warned that this narrative has only emboldened bias and discrimination attacks against immigrant communities and encouraged local politicians to spread harmful tropes and misinformation about families seeking safety in New Jersey.

Immigrants contribute immeasurably to the country's culture, economy, and social fabric. To truly honor our immigrant heritage, we need comprehensive immigration reform that provides pathways to citizenship, ensures human rights, and creates an inclusive society where everyone can thrive. Elected officials must confront and reform the broken immigration system. Inhumane treatment, detention, family separation, and deportation must end now,” said Araceli Argueta, with American Friends Service Committee.

President Biden came into office with the lowest number of people in immigration detention this century, just 14,195 people. Today, that number has nearly tripled, with 2,358,093 additional expulsions under Title 42 and 180,000 people under e-carceration, a curfew, ankle monitoring, and surveillance program that serves as an alternative to detention.

With profit, not safety or justice as the motive, the more cells there are to fill, the more arrests ICE will make, terrorizing our communities,” said Bianca R. Soto of Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center. “Both major parties competing to see who can be ‘tougher’ on immigrants leaves no one on our side. We need to see the humane and welcoming policy that affirms America’s history as a country built by immigrants, and confirms New Jersey’s reality as the state with the second highest percentage of foreign-born residents. We can set an example for the nation with laws like the Immigrant Trust Act, and the Biden Administration must set a new course if it truly doesn’t want to lead us down the same path as its predecessor, and would show a vision that can be distinguished from them.

Despite the enactment of the 2021 ban on immigration detention contracts in New Jersey, the Elizabeth Detention Center continues to operate while the law faces an additional legal challenge in court by CoreCivic and Geo Group Inc., the two largest for-profit prison corporations globally. NJAIJ staunchly demands the full enforcement of this law to shutter detention centers that contravene the spirit of this legislation.

Three years ago, New Jersey’s anti-detention bill was passed and signed into law with overwhelming community support, and now, two of the largest private prison companies in the world are threatening to undermine the incredible progress we’ve made,” said Katy Sastre from First Friends of New Jersey & New York.We see the devastating impacts of immigration detention every single day, including years after an individual is released. To know that CoreCivic, which has received the support of the Biden administration twice during its fight against the state’s anti-detention bill, and now GeoGroup will be allowed to operate with relative impunity in the state is an insult to all New Jerseyans. In the lead-up to this year’s federal elections, we demand that our elected officials do more to end immigration detention, protect asylum, and vocally and publicly take a stand against xenophobia.”

“Standing here outside of New Jersey’s final immigrant detention jail feels symbolic. During his first 100 days in office, it was private ICE jails like this one that President Biden said ‘should not exist.’ Yet just a few years later, it’s his administration that’s joining the legal challenge to keep it open. That’s why we need our federal representatives to fight back and defend our communities," said Erik Cruz Morales with the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. "We cannot predict what will happen in November, but we know one thing now – without change, our communities remain at risk of detention and deportation for as long as these sites exist."

As advocates closed in song, white transfer vans arrived to bring people to the jail for detention. The crowd erupted in chants to "Free Them All" as vans escorted detained people into the building -- a stark reminder that more must be done to fight to keep immigrant communities together.