CONTACTS: Kathy O’Leary, Pax Christi NJ, 973-610-1684, firstname.lastname@example.org Sally Pillay, IRATE & First Friends, 201-394-9093, email@example.com Br.John Skrodinsky(English & Spanish), 973-896-0444, firstname.lastname@example.org
FAITH LEADERS & ACTIVISTS WALKING 12 MILES TO PROTEST PRISONPROFITEERING THAT IS DRIVING IMMIGRATION DETENTION EXPANSION IN NJ
Pilgrims To March from Ellis Island in Liberty State Park to the Elizabeth Detention Center for the 3rd Consecutive Year on Ash Wednesday.
Jersey City, NJ– Beginning at 10 am on Wednesday, February 22, members from over two dozen faith based, community and immigrant rights groups, including members from Pax Christi NJ, IRATE & First Friends, American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program- Newark and NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, will gather in Liberty State Park, just off Freedom Way, in front of the footbridge to Ellis Island for a press conference and prayer service before beginning a 12 mile “pilgrimage” that will end at theElizabethDetentionCenter.
Who: Community & faith leaders, immigrant rights activists, community members, recently released detainees and family members of current detainees.
What: Press conference, prayer service and 12 mile pilgrimage with stops at houses of worship and “sites of injustice”
Where: Beginning in front of the footbridge to Ellis Island atLibertyState Park (just offFreedom Way) and ending at theElizabethDetentionCenter (625 Evans St.Elizabeth,NJ)
When: Beginning at 10 am ending at 6 pm when the pilgrims will be received at the 14th annual Ash Wednesday Vigil at theElizabethDetentionCenter.
Organizers site their outrage over the history of immigration detention in New Jersey which includes a myriad of cases of abuse, including a number of shocking deaths, a culture of secrecy and a lack of transparency in the county jails and the private detention facilities that now hold over 2000 individuals on any given day, as the driving force behind the event. Adding to their outrage is the fact that the increase in the number and the size of the facilities is being driven, by financial concerns rather than human rights. NJ recently became home to a second for-profit facility which incarcerates immigrants who are in immigration court proceedings when the Essex County Executive signed a contract with ICE and the Essex County Freeholders approved a sub-contract for immigration detention with the politically connected firm, Community Education Centers which operates Delaney Hall.
Organizers note that since Essex County signed the contract with ICE to expand immigration detention to 1250 people this past fall, Essex County has been in the news almost constantly with the stories of hardship that immigration detention is causing to local residents and their families. “These are just the stories that make it into the newspaper,” said Sally Pillay, director of the intern program for IRATE & First Friends. “We know of many more that most people will never hear of. For each and every one of the over 2000 people held in the county jails and immigration detention centers in NJ there is a story of human suffering.”
Participants will begin with Ellis Island, a powerful symbol of our country’s ideals of valuing the contribution of immigrants, and walk between the sites that they say areat the root of the misery caused by the current immigration system and prison privatization. The sites include the Essex County Correctional Facility, the ICE Field Office, and the Wells Fargo branch on Broad Street. Organizers point to Wells Fargo’s investment in private prisons as the reason for adding the bank branch to this year’s route. “Private prison companies have lobbied politicians to pass laws that disproportionately effect immigrants and people of color increasing prison populations while creating more profit for one of its largest shareholders, Wells Fargo,” said Diana Mejia, co-founder of Wind of the Spirit,ImmigrantResourceCenter.
Along the way, pilgrims will witness with various faith traditions along by stopping at Assumption/All Saints Church, the Al-Ghazaly School, Temple Beth-El and St. Stephan’s Grace Community ELCA. “We may worship in different ways, but we all believe in the innate value of human beings regardless of immigration status as well as the principle of welcoming the stranger,” said Rev. Gene Squeo, the co-pastor of St. Patrick’s/Assumption/All Saints in Jersey City.
The pilgrimage is the third annual event of its kind held on the Christian feast day of Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, 40 days of penance and repentance that are marked by prayer, abstinence and corporal works of mercy. The theme of this year’s event is “For Sandals & Silver”. It is a reference to a quote from the book of Amos from the Hebrew scriptures: “Because they hand over the just for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; they trample the heads of the destitute into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way.”
“County governments like Essex hail the revenue generated by contracts with ICE as ‘heroic’ and ‘innovative’ ways to reduce property taxes but one cannot avoid the moral conflicts that arise when the financial benefit of some is being used to justify the suffering of many,” said Kathy O’Leary coordinator for Pax Christi NJ.
The event is co-sponsored by: IRATE & First Friends; Pax Christi NJ; AFSC Immigrant Rights Program – Newark; Wind of the Spirit; Felician Sisters of North America; Casa Esperanza; St. Joseph Social Service Center; Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless; Reformed Church of Highland Park; Passaic County Coalition for Immigrant Rights; Hudson County Brotherhood/Sisterhood Association; Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry – NJ Synod; NJ Lutheran Immigration Task Force; St. Stephan’s Grace Community- ELCA; Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth; Franciscan Sisters of Peace; Community Church of NY, Action for Justice Committee; Witness Against Torture; Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill; Ironbound Community Corp.; Jornaleros Unidos de Passaic; Action 21; NJ DREAM Act Coalition; Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast; Middlesex County Coalition of Immigrant Rights; NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees; National Association of Social Workers – NJ Chapter