Democratic congressional members from New Jersey and New York met Sunday with immigration detainees separated from children at the southwest border, and said they will introduce legislation Tuesday to change the policy.
After they left the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, the representatives said during a press conference that they had met with five men, four of whom were brought to New Jersey from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Some of the men, they said, became emotional when they spoke of their children being taken from them. Some said they don’t know where the youngsters are being kept, the representatives said.
“What I saw in there is inhumane. I see the politics of this administration and it turns my stomach, because I know what this country stands for,” said Rep. Albio Sires, D-West New York. “And that’s not what we are in America.”
Nearly 500 people showed up for a rally organized as part of the visit on Father’s Day to protest a Trump administration policy that separates children from parents at the border. By 10:50 a.m., after waiting more than an hour to enter, lawmakers were allowed inside while demonstrators waited outside.
“For all the fathers in detention, you are not forgotten” those rallying outside chanted.
Joining Sires for the visit were Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-Long Branch. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, was joined by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Adriano Espaillat.
They are the latest lawmakers who have made surprise visits to immigration detention facilities since the Trump administration announced a new “zero tolerance” immigration policy that calls for the criminal prosecution of undocumented immigrants who have entered the country through the border.
Those stopped are detained, and if they entered with children they are then separated from them. The separation of parents and children has drawn public outrage, prompting demonstrations throughout the nation condemning the practice.
The United Nations Human Rights Office earlier this month called on the administration to immediately halt the practice of separating families and to stop criminalizing what “should be at most an administrative offense.”
“Children should never be detained for reasons related to their own or their parents’ migration status,’’ the office wrote in a statement. “Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.”
The Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility is managed by CoreCivic, based in Tennessee. The building, in an industrial area of the city, can hold about 300 immigrant detainees.
CoreCivic referred questions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Emilio K. Dabul, a spokesman for ICE in Newark, confirmed the visit by representatives but did not have any further comment.
Pascrell said what he saw was heartbreaking.
“Parents are being held prisoner inside, literally crying to us to be reunited with families,’’ he said. “There are people trying to escape extreme violence and poverty. What is happening to them is despicable. It is a sin.”
Pallone gave details of some of the conversations the representatives had with detainees from Central America. He said one man came with his 7-year old brother, who was taken from him, and now doesn’t know where his sibling is. Pallone said the man left his country because he was targeted by drug dealers.
Another man, he said, came with his 5-year-old daughter, who he believes may now be held in Michigan, but wasn’t sure.
“When he crossed the border, they took his daughter ... while he was sleeping at 3 a.m. ... they snuck in and took the daughter away,’’ Pallone said.
As the representatives spoke, attendees at the rally shouted “shame.” Several had arrived as early as 8:30 a.m. and stayed for several hours in hot temperatures. Between chanting and marching, they heard personal stories from immigrants who have been affected by detention and deportation.
“I think the whole thing is criminal and it’s un-American,’’ said Pat Henry of Hackensack, a member of a grass-roots organization called Hackensack Safe, which wants the city to be named “a fair and welcoming place.”
Others brought their young children and said they were emotionally affected by what is going on in the border.
“Those poor babies, those poor mothers, those poor fathers deserve every inch of our efforts,’’ said Analilia Mejia, director of New Jersey Working Families, as she held her 18-month-old son, August Rogers.
Sally Pillay, program director of First Friends of New Jersey and New York, which sends volunteers to visit immigration detainees, said that in the past year they have seen more detainees from the southwest border moved to New Jersey facilities.
There are four sites that hold immigration detainees in New Jersey. Besides Elizabeth, immigration detainees are held at the county jails in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties.
“We see a lot in Essex and Elizabeth, and a significant amount of Cubans who have crossed the border coming in, and now they are placed in Elizabeth,’’ Pillay said.
Several immigrant advocate organizations attended the rally, including Make the Road New Jersey, the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, Faith in New Jersey, ACLU of New Jersey, New York Civil Liberties Union, Make the Road New York, the New York Immigration Coalition and the New Sanctuary Coalition.
Posted June 18 2018 at 3:38 PM Permanent Link