People demonstrate in the heat to denounce separation policy

Sussex County voices join the protests, promise further action

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  • Nancy Bloom from Chatham at the June 22 demonstration outside Rep. Frelinghuysen's Morristown office Photo by Meghan Byers

  • Verona residents Howard Kreiger and Marci Maccarelli, with kids, at June 22 protest Photo by Meghan Byers

  • Noelle Jensen of Morris Plains at June 22 protest Photo by Meghan Byers

  • The Sommer children -- Leo, Kipplen, and Tillem -- who atteneded the June 22 Morristown demonstration with their mom, Julia Sommer Photo by Megan Byers

  • From last Friday's protest in Morristown Photo provided

  • Last Friday's protest at Frelinghuysen's Morristown office Photo provided

  • Christine Clarke of Hopatcong, center, with her family in Morristown last Friday Photo provided

BY Meghan Byers

— New Jersey saw thousands of protestors take to the streets across the state this past weekend to demand an end to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents at the southern United States border. Although President Trump signed an executive order to ostensibly prevent further separation of families, it provides no specific plan to reunite families currently separated.

The United Nations human rights office called the practice of separating families “a serious violation of the rights of the child” and stated that it violates international law. On June 26, U.S. District Judge Dana Makoto Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Trump administration to reunite all children with their parents within 30 days – 2 weeks for children under the age of 5.

This past Friday afternoon, local group Action Together New Jersey joined forces with national organization Lawyer Moms of America to hold demonstrations outside the offices of local representatives, including Congressman Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11) and Congressman Lance (R-NJ7). Later that evening, Sussex County residents gathered together and lit candles during a “Keeping Families Together” vigil on the Newton Green, where church leaders spoke out against the immigration policy. Hundreds marched through blazing heat in Newark the next day as part of a national day of action, with speakers including Democratic NJ Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.

New Jersey’s 11th District got a head start on the nationwide protests on Friday, June 22, with a “Fridays for Families” vigil co-sponsored by local grassroots coalition NJ 11th for Change. About 200 concerned constituents gathered outside the Morristown office of Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11). Speakers included Democratic congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill, who is running this November against Republican Jay Webber, a state assemblyman, for Frelinghuysen’s open seat.

New Jersey's 11 Congressional District includes five communities in Sussex County: Byram Township, Hopatcong, Ogdensburg, Sparta Township and Stanhope.

“Let’s be very clear about what’s happening,” Sherrill said to the crowd gathered together on the sidewalk outside Frelinghuysen’s office at Schuyler Place. “This decision to separate families is a decision made in Washington, and a decision to inflict cruelty on children, and it does nothing to secure our borders.”

She went on to say that Trump’s executive order to end the family separations was “not enough,” noting that it provides no plan for reuniting detained children with their parents.

Julia Sommer, of Maplewood, echoed Sherrill’s concern. “The executive order doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of children already separated from their families,” said Sommer, who attended the demonstration with her own three children.

“The damage is already done,” agreed constituent Ted Wright, of Montclair. “Long after Trump is out of office, these kids will still be affected.”

Rupande Mehta, who is currently running as a Democratic candidate for Morris County freeholder, spoke at the Fridays for Families vigil about her own experience coming to the United States as an immigrant.

“Immigrants don’t come here to cause trouble,” she said. “It is very difficult to pick up your life and to flee.”

Mehta added that she had come to the United States because “I knew that this was the country where justice happens. I urge Congress to do the right thing.”

Frelinghuysen issued an updated statement on June 22 regarding the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Although he noted that he has long supported increased border security, he went on to criticize the family separation policy.

“I also believe that how we treat strangers reflects the moral values upon which this country was founded,” he wrote. “Separating children from their parents can never be part of any solution! We can, and must, enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders without breaking families apart.”

However, several demonstrators at the Fridays for Families vigil felt it was too little too late from the congressman, who is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“He’s phoning it in,” said Marci Maccarelli, of Verona. “He’s doing the absolute minimum.”

“He’s the head of the Appropriations Committee,” said Steve Saprito of Roseland. “He could be doing a lot more.”

Christine Clarke, environmental Director for Action Together NJ, attended the demonstration at Frelinghuysen’s office this last Friday. “In the age of Trump, statements do nothing,” she said. “We need more than statements. We need legislation.”

The Keep Families Together Act (S.3036), which was introduced to the Senate on June 7, currently has the support of 48 Democrats and no Republicans. The related bill introduced in the House (H.R. 6135) has been cosponsored by 194 House Democrats but also has yet to receive any Republican support.

“I’m concerned about our current immoral politics,” said Clarke, a resident of Hopatcong and the mother of four. “As a mom, I can’t imagine my children being torn from me and caged. That’s horrifying. Anyone with a heart would be morally outraged.

“The fact that the United States, which is supposed to be the place of the American dream, has child internment centers, is disgusting,” she said. “We need to fix this urgently...Why are we in a country where it’s considered a privilege to be with your children?”

On Tuesday, June 26, New Jersey joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia in filing a lawsuit which challenges President Trump’s immigration enforcement policies, including the practice of separating children from their families.

“The Administration’s practice of separating families is cruel, plain and simple,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in a statement. “Every day, it seems like the Administration is issuing new, contradictory policies and relying on new, contradictory justifications. But we can’t forget: the lives of real people hang in the balance. Hundreds of children remain forcibly separated from their parents. Our country deserves better.”

NJ 11th for Change plans to continue its “Fridays for Families” demonstrations every Friday going forward, and with November elections on the horizon, the activism nationwide shows no signs of fading.

“If they won’t fix it,” said Clarke, referring to current elected officials, “then we need to vote in people who will.”

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