Democratic members of Congress make surprise visit to New Jersey immigration detention center
Source: NY Daily News
By Catherina Gioino and Erin Durkin
Members of Congress from New York and New Jersey got into a detention center in New Jersey on Sunday, where they met with arrested immigrants separated from their families.
Seven Democrats made the surprise Father’s Day visit to the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility in Elizabeth, N.J., where they were finally allowed in after more than an hour of wrangling with authorities.
“It was shameful what we heard inside,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn). “There was a father who spoke about his young daughter being ripped away from him at 3 a.m. in the morning. This is the indecency of this administration. This is the child abuse that the Trump administration is perpetrating.”
The pols said they met with five men, arrested at the southern border, who are seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing violence at home. Two had their young children taken away from them, and one was separated from his 7-year-old brother.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said authorities wouldn’t allow the members of Congress to bring cell phones, cameras or pens into the facility, but he brought in a pen anyway to write down the stories of detainees, none of whom was named.
The men haven’t been told where their children are, he said. One thinks his 5-year-old is in Michigan, but he isn’t sure.
“He got on his knees and begged,” Pallone said. Another man believes his 12-year-old daughter is in a New York detention center.
“She clung to him as they were taken from him and he was crying while we were talking to him,” Pallone said. “These people came here because they were being murdered, tortured, they were being prosecuted. And they came with their kids because they wanted to protect their kids.”
For the past few months, President Trump’s administration has pursued a “zero tolerance” policy declaring that anyone caught crossing the border illegally will be criminally prosecuted. As a result, people who have children with them when they are arrested are separated.
“The sheer emotion was overwhelming,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “We’re going to go home to our families for Father’s Day, and they’re not.”
Nadler accused Trump of using “blackmail” to force Democrats to accept drastic cuts to legal immigration in order to stop the family separations.
“It’s Father’s Day and you have fathers inside being forcibly separated from their children. And that’s un-American. It’s inhuman, never mind un-American,” he said.
Also participating in the tour were Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Adriano Espaillat of New York and Reps. Albio Sires and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey.
The pols were initially refused permission to enter the facility, run privately by a company called CoreCivic, but they got in after an hour and a half of arguing with staff, local police and ICE officials.
“ICE staff told us to wait five minutes. That was 50 minutes ago. @RepJerryNadler @FrankPallone @RepSires @RepMaloney @RepEspaillat @RepJeffries and I literally banging on the door to gain entry to the jail to see separated families,” Pascrell tweeted.
Nadler wrote that the group had pried a door open and was “refusing to let it close until we are given access to the detainees.”
The pols were then told to empty their pockets and leave their possessions in lockers.
“After being made to wait over an hour. After having to deal with local PD. After banging on the door and making it clear that we WILL NOT MOVE until we’re allowed in, ICE is finally granting us access to see individuals who have been separated from their families,” Maloney tweeted.
The pols plan to introduce a bill in the House this week to prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from taking children from their parents at the border.
But Homeland Security Chief Kirstjen Nielsen said no such legislation is necessary.
“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period” Nielsen tweeted, despite countless tales of forced separation.
Compounding Nielsen’s false statement were reports that children separated at the border were being held in an old warehouse in south Texas behind metal fencing that resembled cages. Reporters who were allowed inside said one cage held 20 children, and boys and girls used sheets of foil as blankets.
Back in New Jersey protesters rallied outside as the lawmakers met with detainees.
Among the protesters was Sharon Chajon, 25, who said her husband Jorge Chajon, a native of Guatemala, has been detained since last year when he was arrested by ICE at home. He had been protected through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but did not renew it because he thought he could get a green card through his marriage to a U.S. citizen.
Sharon Chajon was 19 weeks pregnant with their second child at the time.
“I thought this was a sick joke. It was the worst joke,” she said. “He’s a Dreamer … He was starting his business. He was a painter and he wanted to go to school but couldn’t. He went to college and took a class or two because that’s all we could afford.”
“It’s hard to watch American values erode like this,” said Janet Goldener, 66, of Tribeca. “I’m the daughter of immigrants — they were refugees from Eastern Europe. These people are refugees just like everyone else.”