Land of the free?

Jersey City calls on congressional representatives to help migrants

Jersey City Council passed a resolution urging Congress to reunite migrant families and release them from detention facilities.
Jersey City Council passed a resolution urging Congress to reunite migrant families and release them from detention facilities.

Following in Hoboken’s footsteps, Jersey City officially became the fifth municipality in the state to pass a resolution urging Congress to reunify migrant families, release them from detention, and give them due process in immigration proceedings.

The resolution condemns the inhumane treatment of migrants at the country’s borders and in the interior of the country and affirms that all men, women, and children who come to the nation’s borders have a right to due process and to the full and fair opportunity to seek protection in the United States.

It calls on Rep. Albio Sires, Rep. Donald Payne, and U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker to call for an end to immigration detention in the United States, the immediate reunification of migrant families, and the release of migrant children and parents from detention.

It also calls on Sires and Payne to cut funding to the Trump Administration’s “hateful border militarization and immigration enforcement regime” by decreasing the overall amount of money going to the Department of Homeland Security in the budget process as well as decrease the funding for detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Customs and Border Patrol agents, during the appropriation process.

It urges the state and all New Jersey counties to fund a universal legal services program that guarantees every indigent migrant in detention access to quality legal representation.

Bearing witness 

Many members of the public spoke in favor of the resolution prior to the Jersey City Council adopting it in an 8-0 vote on Jan. 23. Councilman Rolando Lavarro was absent.

Resident Heather Ciociola of the New Jersey Jewish Coalition for Refugees said she and other members from her organization went to Homestead, Fla. where she stood for hours outside one of the largest facilities that detains children. The group shouted in both English and Spanish, “We love you, We see you, You are not alone.”

“Seeing a facility like that with children in the yard crossing from one tent structure to another in uniforms and orange baseball caps is beyond heartbreaking,” said Ciociola, calling the treatment of these children inhuman and noting they were prohibited from physical contact like hugs, or from receiving free flu shots.

She said that by passing the resolution, the council was standing up to these practices and could be proud of doing something rather than sitting in silence in “the face of such atrocities.”

Old Bridge resident Mishal Khan said she experienced family separation on two occasions, once at 19 years old when her father was deported, and again at 26 years old when her brother was deported.

“There are severe mental health effects and trauma in each person who has to experience family separation and immigration detention,” Khan said. “The separation from my family has caused me trauma and depression that will stay with me forever.”

She said her brother now suffers from PTSD because of the experience.

“We need to reunite families and end immigration detention and the cruel practices of ICE,” she said.

Jersey City resident Mia Scanga whose mother and aunt migrated from Italy to the United States said she finds herself having to explain to anti-immigrant family members that it wasn’t so long ago that Italians weren’t welcome.

“I have to constantly remind them that there was a similar situation in the 1920s,” said Scanga. “It was called the Immigration Act of 1924, and it was very, very anti-Italian. It’s a shame that we even have to propose a resolution like this, but considering what’s happening, we really do need to.”

Resident Karin Vanoppen said passing the resolution was a “no brainer” and said while the resolution was “bare bones,” she was at least glad the council was talking about the issue.

She said her neighbor Maria has been separated from her daughter and husband for more than a year as she had to go back to Guatemala to “have her immigration papers sorted out.”

“Next week it’s her kid’s birthday,” said Vanoppen. “I can’t stop thinking about that.”

Council members James Solomon, Mira Prinz-Arey, and Rolando Lavarro sponsored the resolution.

Solomon said the country’s treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers is “truly outrageous,” noting that it began before the Trump Administration. He said the immigration process has been “broken a long time but it’s gotten significantly worse in ways that are truly unimaginable, and we have to do everything we can … to welcome them to our shores.”

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