In 1995, immigrant detainees, predominantly African immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., being held at the Esmor detention facility in Elizabeth, NJ rioted against the inhuman treatment they received. This event spurred a successful landmark court case against Esmor, a private prison corporation, for their human rights abuses and insufficient training of guards at the facility. This case, settled in 2007, was brought by a faculty member at Rutgers University-Newark’s law school. While the legal case was successful, it did not end immigrant detention in Elizabeth, NJ. Today, the Elizabeth Detention Center is one of the largest facilities in the country used in detaining undocumented immigrants and is run by Corrections Corporation of America. It holds immigrants, including asylum seekers, who are held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to ICE, the Elizabeth facility is “a temporary detention center for individuals who are waiting for their immigration status to be determined or who are awaiting repatriation.” Activists, including our community partner, the American Friends Service Committee, continue to advocate for those who are detained.
We will research the events leading up to the 1995 riot, the court case, and the subsequent life of the Elizabeth Detention Center, placing these events within the context of immigration and asylum law, globalization, the War on Terror, and privatization of immigrant detention. RU – Newark’s project will connect with the Newest Americans Project and Center for Migration and the Global City, both based at RU – Newark and run by Professor Tim Raphael, and the abundant immigrant communities surrounding campus.
Mary Rizzo, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice; Associate Director of Public and Digital Humanities Initiatives, Rutgers University-Newark