We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy in this difficult time for our global community. We at the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program have taken every precaution to keep our staff safe as we continue to represent, support and learn from immigrants and immigrant communities in New Jersey. We are all working remotely and have developed creative ways to maintain our critical legal services and organizing and advocacy work in defense of immigrant rights. In order to stay connected with all of you, we will be sending out periodic updates to keep you informed about how we are responding to the challenges that our immigrant communities are facing during this global pandemic.
The number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 increases exponentially across the state of New Jersey by the day, with cases now reported in all 21 of New Jersey’s counties. There have already been several confirmed cases among correctional officers and medical staff at New Jersey jails and detention centers and an individual detained at Delaney Hall in Newark has also tested positive. Public health experts have warned that these facilities, which are already rife with abuses and abysmal conditions, are tinderboxes for the transmission of the virus. AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program represents hundreds of detainees every year and we are tirelessly working to secure their release while advocating for practices and protocols to keep all individuals deprived of their liberty as safe as possible. Detainees and their families have shared their many fears and concerns with our staff and their deeply held desire to be reunited during this public health crisis.
On March 20th, AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program sent an organizational sign-on letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement that called on them to exercise the discretion and authority that they indisputably have to make the right decision to save lives. We demanded that ICE release all immigrant detainees currently in their custody in the state of New Jersey and suspend all check-ins, enforcement activity and deportations and transfers of detainees. In the midst of this global pandemic, it is more important than ever to advocate for an end to immigration detention. There are non-punitive community-based alternatives to detention that allow individuals to live freely and with their families and also protect their due process rights by ensuring access to their attorneys and other critical resources.