JERSEY CITY, NJ — North Jersey Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) condemns the heavy-handed fascist repression of Hudson County executive Tom DeGise, who responded to peaceful legal protests on public space with an unconstitutional restraining order, heavy police presence, and ultimately arrests of peaceful protestors standing legally on the sidewalk. This all reflects the catastrophic collapse of democracy under DeGise’s suffocating political machine.
In an absurd op-ed piece published today, DeGise singles out Democratic Socialists, blaming DSA and other activists for “terrorizing” his family with peaceful protest. Members of North Jersey DSA have helped organize and attend these protests, and the only people terrorized at them were participants, including a DSA member among the four unjustly arrested on Tuesday night. “It’s nice of Mr. DeGise to signal-boost DSA in his Trump-like op-ed,” says Allison Howard, a DSA member who lives in Jersey City; “I’d say we’re living rent-free in his head, but in reality DSA does a lot of work in Hudson County, from mutual aid projects for those in need to canvassing for issues and politicians who will someday replace his stale, reactionary governance. We belong to and represent this community better than he does.” In Hudson County, DSA has worked on Know Your Rights programs for tenants, organized against Airbnb’s colonization of Jersey City, and phonebanked for marijuana legalization, in addition to long protesting the county’s contract with ICE.
The recent protests result from the Hudson County freeholders’ vote to renew the county’s ICE contract for up to ten years, after they promised in 2018 to end the contract this year. They renewed it against the clear public will expressed in over ten hours of public testimony that was unanimously against the contract, which generates revenue for Hudson County by holding people detained by ICE in the county jail, whose deplorable conditions have been responsible for multiple deaths in the past several years.
DeGise’s claims must be countered. Many of DeGise’s arguments are used by far right groups and conservatives, but he distances himself from these groups through the fact that he’s an elected Democrat. It is important to recognize that the brutality of ICE and deportations were extremely common under the Obama administration. In 2008, 378,582 people were detained by ICE detention programs. A Biden/Harris presidency will not lessen the human rights violations ongoing in ICE detention centers. DeGise’s fear mongering, claiming that those detained by ICE are rapists, murderers, and drug dealers ignores the fact that all ICE detention is civil detention. ICE has detained American citizens at their facilities, and had DeGise actually listened to his constituents and neighbors, instead of referring to them as “left-wing extremists”, he would know that such an abhorrent institution has no place in our diverse community.
DeGise stated that the county is given money from the federal government to run ICE at Hudson County facilities. In Hudson County’s FY2020 budget, it anticipated receiving $17,520,000. As of November 19, 2020, there are only 83 people in ICE detention. The county will not make more than 4 million dollars this year, $13 million behind its estimation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the funding losses. On that same note, Hudson County jail employees have died from COVID-19. The family of one officer reported that he was not given any PPE while working at the jail. Over 60 people in the Hudson County jail have been infected with COVID-19. Including employees, inmates, and those detained by ICE.
As a final counter to DeGise’s claim that “the county is paid by the federal government to serve this important role, and that funding helps employ hundreds of correctional officers and balance our budget”: Hudson County has faced the opposite problem. In 2019, the Hudson County Corrections Department had 100 unfilled CO positions. Overtime pay for the county’s COs was $4.8 million in 2014 and in 2018, $8.5 million was paid out. It’s obvious that the money given to the Hudson County Correctional Facilities are not used for new workers, or even for the protection of current workers.
Thomas DeGise and the Hudson County freeholders have failed our community and their constituents. They label protestors as “isolated, radical extremists who don’t understand Hudson County and never will”. This label, which is a dogwhistle in the spirit of “outside agitators,” is wrong. We are not isolated, we are not extremists for combating an unjust system, and we are united in the fight for the rights of the oppressed. DeGise and the six freeholders who voted to uphold the ICE contract who heard the voices of hundreds of citizens speaking out against the presence of ICE in Hudson County are the ones who never listen to Hudson County. North Jersey DSA invites all who oppose their corrupt, antidemocratic machine to join us. A better world, and a better Hudson County, are possible.