Freedom for Immigrants is deeply alarmed by a report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, which found “serious issues relating to safety, security, and environmental health that require ICE’s immediate attention” at the Essex County Correctional Facility, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Newark, New Jersey. As the Inspector General notes, these issues put detained individuals’ lives at risk and are in violation of ICE’s own detention guidelines. The report not only goes into great detail regarding these issues but provides photos as evidence of the intolerable conditions detained individuals are subjected to every day.
Based on an unannounced inspection from July 2018, the Inspector General found egregious food safety issues such as boxes of raw chicken leaking blood in refrigeration units as well as the use of rotten lunch meat. The report cites detained individuals’ stories on being served spoiled food, with one person saying: “For dinner, we were served meatballs that smell like fecal matter. The food was rotten.” Another person said they developed a stomach infection as a result of the inedible and potentially contaminated food.
Detained individuals have few if any food options in ICE detention. For those who cannot afford to buy the prohibitively expensive food options from the commissary, they are left no choice but to eat the food prepared by the facility. But this jail proved that it cannot even provide adequate nourishment — a basic necessity. If it can’t do that, then it certainly cannot ensure the well-being of individuals in any capacity.
To make matters worse, the Inspector General also documented “environmental conditions at the Essex Facility that pose serious health and safety risks for detainees” such as leaks from the ceilings, some of which dripped onto individuals’ beds, showers covered in mold and mattresses that were falling apart. These unsanitary conditions are further proof that ICE cuts corners for the most basic necessities.
Lastly, the jail failed to report an incident in which a guard left unattended a loaded gun in a staff bathroom, which was discovered by a detained individual who was told not to say anything about the matter.
In addition, Freedom for Immigrants has received reports from people detained there who say they have been strip-searched, sexually assaulted, denied timely medical attention, faced discrimination and retaliation over complaints.
What this report and Freedom for Immigrants’ documentation show is the sheer lack of accountability and transparency that exists not only at the Essex County Correctional Facility but in all of immigration detention and the inhumane conditions that immigrants have to endure while they await immigration proceedings.
We cannot allow the Trump administration to continue expanding a system rife with abuse and mismanagement at the expense of lives and fueled by taxpayer dollars.