Community Maplewood South Orange

PHOTOS: SOMA Action Joins ‘Lights of Liberty’ Protest at Essex County ICE Facility

More than 400 protesters — with scores from South Orange and Maplewood — joined a protest at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark on July 12 calling for the end of detention camps for immigrants.

The “Lights of Liberty” July 12 protest took place across five continents and more than 700 towns and cities in the U.S. with the professed aim of calling attention to the plight of refugees and immigrant detainees at the U.S. Southern Border and at detention camps around the country. The local vigil in Newark was organized by several New Jersey-based grassroots groups, including SOMA Action.

According to a release from SOMA Action (see below), the Newark facility “typically holds over 750 immigrant detainees per night.” Earlier this year, a federal report detailed “deplorable” conditions at the Essex County facility.

As part of the protest, SOMA Action member Elsie Bernier spoke from her perspective as a Haitian immigrant and community advocate: “No one deserves to live in dehumanizing conditions in this great country that we call America. And we must send a clear message to governor Murphy to end all ICE contracts through the state of New Jersey.”

Read the full release and see photos from SOMA Action below.

See additional coverage here:

From SOMA Action:

Essex County Correctional Facility, Newark, NJ, July 12th 7-9PM – Lights for Liberty: A Nationwide Vigil to End Human Detention Camps was held on five continents and in nearly 600 locations worldwide this past Friday night from 7 pm to 9 pm local time. Over 400 people
attended the vigil in Newark.

Sponsors of the Lights for Liberty Vigil at the Essex County Correctional Facility include:

American Friends Service Committee of NJ, BlueWaveNJ, First Friends of NJ/NY, North Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, SOMA Action, and Wind of the Spirit.

Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, NJ has a contract with ICE for immigrant detention and typically holds over 750 immigrant detainees per night. As part of Lights for Liberty, we gathered in Essex County to expose and protest the inhumane conditions faced by
immigrant detainees across the U.S. from Newark to the Border and stand united in our belief that families belong together in communities, not cages.

Advocates, activists and impacted persons spoke on the issues of immigrant detention.  In an emotional phone call, First Friends called a detainee who was currently in immigrant detention to speak about the conditions. Members of Wind of the Spirit began with a call and response in which the names of some of those who died in ICE custody were solemnly chanted by the crowd. SOMA Action member Elsie Bernier spoke from her perspective as a Haitian immigrant and community advocate, “No one deserves to live in dehumanizing conditions in this great country that we call America. And we must send a clear message to governor Murphy to end all ICE contracts through the state of New Jersey.” SOMA Action also reported on recent facts of the detention center, such as the fact that the detention center billed ice nearly 3 million dollars in the month of January alone, and yet the county would not support more than 750K for legal

Advocates are calling for: 1) Essex County to stop profit-making and to put in place a plan of action to phase out the ICE detention contract and release immigrant detainees; 2) accountability and independent community oversight at the Essex County Correctional Facility;
and 3) improved conditions at the Essex County Correctional Facility.

At 9 p.m., in Essex County and around the world, participants lit candles in a silent vigil for all those held in U.S. detention camps to bring light to the darkness of the Trump administration’s horrific policies.

Statements from Co-Sponsors:

“The over-reliance of Essex County, a Democratic County, on money generated by immigration detention is deeply disturbing. It is unwise to balance the County budget on the backs of immigrant detainees,” said Serges Demefack, End Detention and Deportation Project Coordinator at American Friends Service Committee.

BlueWaveNJ affirms the dignity of every human being regardless of immigration status. We demand the humane and fair treatment of all detainees and call for an end to family separation and the cruel treatment of all those seeking refuge in our country.

First Friends of NJ & NY believes that immigration detention is immoral and does not represent the values that our citizens stand for.  We demand that Essex County adhere to the 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards by creating a County Advisory Board and a Grievance Appeals Board to ensure that the rights of ICE detainees are not violated.”

The North New Jersey Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America affirms that no human being is illegal. We aim for the full liberation of peoples impacted by mass displacement, forced migration, and oppression caused by global capitalism, imperialism, and climate crises. We call for the end of profiting off of the human suffering at the Essex County Correctional Facility.

SOMA Action Immigrant Rights Committee stands strongly against immigrant detention. We demand an end to incarcerating people for fleeing oppression, and pursuing life, liberty and happiness. From right here in Essex County to the U.S. borders, we must defund ICE, keep families together, and stop profiting from human suffering.

Wind of the Spirit, I,migrant Resource Center — The conditions are eerily similar to internment and concentration camps. The treatment of our people deplorable. The degradation of children, families and entire communities will leave devastating long term consequences. Consequences that will revermerate into our societal fabric. We must stop the historical trend of scapegoating and be bold enough to find creative solutions without bigotry, hate and xenophobia. We will not be complacent in the dehumanization and criminalization of immigrant communities. Immigrants make this country great. Immigrant communities are the backbone of this country, and as such should be treated with dignity, respect and  humanely.

About Lights for Liberty:

Lights for Liberty was created by a loose coalition of grassroots activists, with support from long-standing immigrants’ rights organizations and other organizers. More information can be found at

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