ICE Transfers are Weapons of Mass Incarceration
By Patrick Julney
I have been detained by ICE at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey since May 2019. The conditions here are horrible. It’s always too cold, sometimes so cold I can’t sleep, and they limit the clothing items you can have. The sheets are dirty. I’ve found maggots and hair in my food. During covid, everything has gotten worse. They guards won’t wear masks, and if you ask about that, they threaten you. So many of us have gotten sick.
Some days I don’t think I can take it anymore. I could not do it without my wife, Laura — my forever. We met in high school. I was a football player and she was on the track team. She is so strong, she helps keep me calm, she helps me worry less. Her weekly visits are my lifeline. When we’re together, even though since covid it has been “no contact” visits, separated by plexiglass, it’s the only time we have real peace. We can smile and laugh and in her eyes I can escape for a moment.
I live in daily fear that ICE will transfer me to another detention center. Apart from being deported, that is my greatest fear because I would lose those visits with Laura. I would lose the one thing that makes this hellhole bearable for me.
ICE uses transfers as a weapon. Just like they use deportations. When someone complains, suddenly there is paperwork and they are gone in the middle of the night. They have deported people who have stays of deportation. They transfer people who went on hunger strike. It’s definitely a weapon meant to keep us from speaking out against the abuses. And the constant fear that I could be next is a deliberate part of what I can only call terror tactics.
But I will not be intimidated. I’m telling my story because me and Laura are fighting back, and we are part of a much bigger fight to stop the transfers and ultimately to stop our country from caging and deporting people altogether.
In New Jersey, people inside and outside of detention have been fighting together. We got Essex County to cancel their ICE contract. We got the state legislature to pass a bill banning future ICE contracts. It’s sitting on Gov. Murphy’s desk, He needs to sign it! The people of New Jersey want ICE out — he needs to get on board.
If Gov. Murphy and other political leaders (looking at you, Sen. Booker and Sen. Menendez) really wanted to, they could end this crisis. Every ICE deportation and every transfer is discretionary. ICE doesn’t have to deport or transfer anyone. They could actually just release everyone. Our senators need to speak up and put pressure on Joe Biden and DHS to stop the transfers and release people.
But it’s not enough to release people from ICE detention if the county officials just fill the jail cells with people in the criminal “justice” system. The whole system of profiting off locking people up has to go. ICE detentions, transfers, and deportations are part of the larger racist system of mass incarceration.
There’s a guy in here with me at Bergen who has cancer, and another who is 65 years old. These men are not any threat to society in any way. Neither am I. The U.S. is the only home I’ve ever known. I came here when I was 2. I don’t know who my birth mother is, and after my father and then my step mother died, my aunt took me in because I was homeless. Why are we all still locked away in these cages?
My aunt is old and ill now, but she is determined to fight to see me come home. She is living for my freedom. We are all living for freedom, that’s what we are fighting for.