NEWARK, NJ — “We wish you an ICE-free Christmas, and an ICE-free New Year.”

Brandishing the power of song and sarcasm, a group of anti-ICE protesters managed to throw a monkey wrench into the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders’ final meeting of 2018 and flood the room with sheriff’s officers last week, activists reported.

The holiday-themed protest at the Dec. 19 meeting was the latest effort from a coalition of grassroots activists, who have been demanding that the county end its controversial contract to house ICE immigrant detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.

The group shared a statement about the reason for their unique protest on social media, which can be seen in full here:

“Why is Essex County–a deep-blue Democratic area that’s supposed to be welcoming of immigrants–funding itself by detaining immigrants for dirty ICE money? Indeed, Essex County was just discovered to be the 7th largest hunting ground for ICE’s terrorization of our undocumented neighbors, a full HALF of whom had no criminal record whatsoever. This is absolutely unacceptable, and we need the broadest coalition possible to tell the Essex County freeholders: not in our name, and not in our county! Essex County receives upwards of $30 million annually from ICE for detaining its victims in the Essex County Correctional Facility, thus providing a crucial service in ICE’s system of detentions and deportations.”

Protesters on Dec. 19 included former Essex County Executive candidate Jay Arena, who dressed as Santa Claus for the occasion.

“I can’t go back to the North Pole,” the costume-clad Arena told freeholders, as they continued to read the meeting agenda aloud without acknowledging him. “Christmas is going to be gone here in Essex County unless we get a commitment.”

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In addition to Arena, the protesters – who numbered about two dozen – included several other members of the self-dubbed “Essex Eight,” who were arrested after blocking a doorway during a similar anti-ICE protest in Newark earlier this year.

“When the freeholders refused to even respond to our objections to the ICE contract, we collectively burst into song, until they flooded the room with sheriff’s officers and adjourned for 15 minutes,” said Whitney Strub, who was among the carolers on Dec. 19.

“They would rather do that than respond to their own constituents,” Strub told Patch.

During the meeting, Strub implored the freeholders to kill the ICE contract in Essex County.

“I’m not sure what more you need to show consensus,” he said. “But give us a metric. If you need a petition with a certain number of signatures, we’ll get it. I believe we have shown you a consensus. [Attorney General Gurbir Grewal] has shown what resistance looks like in his Immigrant Trust Directive. You show us only complicity.”

The group of activists also caroled outside the Hall of Records prior to the meeting. Watch a video of the sing-in, and read the lyrics for some of their reworked Christmas carols below.

ANTI-ICE CHRISTMAS CAROL LYRICS (with lyrics by Karl Schwartz)

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With photo/video by Jason Boehm

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