Hunger strike at Hudson County Correctional Center

Freeholders walk out of meeting as public continues to criticize ICE contract

As of Dec. 28, 36 people at the Hudson County Correctional Center had COVID-19.
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As of Dec. 28, 36 people at the Hudson County Correctional Center had COVID-19.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees began a hunger strike at the Hudson County Correctional Center amid a growing coronavirus outbreak.

According to Abolish ICE NY-NJ Coalition, detainees at the jail in Kearny as well as in the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark began a hunger strike Dec. 28 and demanded their release.

These hunger strikes follow at least two other recent hunger strikes at Bergen County Correctional Facility and two hunger strikes at Hudson County Correctional Facility earlier this year.

Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly told NJ.com that no ICE detainees were infected as of Dec. 28, but that the virus had infected some 36 others, including inmates and corrections officers.

Notably, two corrections officers died earlier this year after testing positive for COVID-19.

This latest development comes as residents from across the region continue to criticize the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders for renewing the county’s contract with ICE to house detainees.

In November, just before Thanksgiving, the freeholders voted 6-3 during a marathon meeting to renew the contract for up to 10 years.

Roughly nine hours of the nearly 13-hour meeting were taken up with members of the public urging their county representatives not to renew the contract in which ICE pays the county $120 per person per day to house detainees at the Hudson County Correctional Center.

Freeholders hold their ground 

Despite the public opposition, the county freeholders pushed back and approved the contract.

Since then, every meeting of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders has included members of the public expressing outrage at their decision.

On Dec. 22, the freeholder meeting came to a swift end after several county representatives left the meeting causing the meeting to no longer meet quorum.

It began during public comment, roughly 48 minutes into the meeting when Freeholder and Board Chair Anthony Vainieri asked the clerk if there were any more public speakers who would be addressing a subject other than ICE and immigrant detention.

When Board Clerk Al Santos said that the remaining six speakers appeared to be focusing on ICE, judging from their past public comments, Vainieri said, “Okay thank you. Have a Merry Christmas everybody” and then left the virtual meeting.

Marc Devens of the Hudson County Progressive Alliance said he felt the board chair showed “a profound disrespect for the public by just leaving this meeting” and refusing to hear what six people had to say.

“He couldn’t stick around for a half-hour more?” he said. “That’s just really disgusting behavior from a public official. Um it’s just kind of shocking.”

Freeholders Anthony Romano, Caridad Rodriguez, and Jerry Walker, who all voted in favor of the contract, also left the meeting following more public comment by simply logging off.

Five freeholders need to be present for a public meeting to take place.

Earlier this month, four people were arrested after protesting outside of Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise’s home. DeGise and four other freeholders obtained a temporary retaining order against five defendants, all of whom are associated with the Abolish ICE NY-NJ Coalition, and 20 “John Does and Jane Roes.”

The restraining order issued by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Jablonski on Dec. 8 bans protests within 200 feet of the DeGise home. Protests can be held once every two weeks, according to the order, and it limits attendance to no more than 10 people.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.