In Asbury Park’s Saturday immigration rally of some 500 people the attendees were asked to raise their hands if their grandparents or next if their parents were immigrants, with many raising their hands. When asked if they themselves were immigrants very few hands were raised. Some may perceive Asbury Park as a bastion of middle and upper class whites, but 30% are Hispanics.
It’s no surprise that few hands were raised as fear abounds among many – Dreamers, those undocumented or with expiring visas. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) are like cockroaches and can appear anywhere and anytime, and swoop down to arrest a parent taking a child to school, quickly deporting the parent and leaving the child in desperation. As Rory of Guatemala explained, “We are fearful, nobody is safe.”
Mayor John Moor addressed the audience saying about Trump, “Have you no sense of decency sir?” Congressional District Representative Frank Pallone spoke about what Congress is doing to assure that families are re-united, and he received a loud applause when he said, “We must end private prisons.” Casa Freehold in Monmouth County, a more compassionate organization currently hosts five immigrants seeking asylum of which one was recently re-united with the two children and another who is pregnant. The district legislators were stuck in Trenton cooling their heels while higher powers argued over the budget.
Trump is under court order to reunite families quickly, but his administration has been caught without a sound plan. In some cases officials are uncertain as to the location of certain kids. As Pallone said, “Trump may have stopped separation, but many are not yet reunited.”
Trump’s next response after supposedly reuniting parents and children is to keep them incarcerated together which can take as long as a year until their refugee case is resolved – a policy which might be overruled by a judge. Obama’s approach was to release them with a date to return to court. Dayar Mejia-Reyes read poem in Spanish, “Although we are all different, we are all part of the human family.” She urged everyone to register and to vote.
AG Sessions has stated that refugees claiming they are escaping violence should not be a cause for granting them refugee status. During Obama’s administration the primary problem was with young men crossing the border to seek jobs. Today it is whole families leaving Central American countries over violence from gangs, drug dealers and their repressive governments.
So fearful are they that they come in entire families. Hispanics are well known to be very family-oriented. They risk a one or two month dangerous trek with their kids to reach safety only to have their children wrenched from their arms and sent thousands of miles away to unknown locations. Rory of Asbury Park, formerly from Guatemala explains, “So many die in the journey through Mexico. Here we are all immigrants. It’s horrible.”
Attendees were given a yellow bracelet for their left hand – one which ICE uses to denote their status as a “detained illegal immigrant.” When I left for a late lunch there were many in the restaurant still wearing the bracelet.
Kristine who lives nearby spoke about her Italian immigrant grandparents who had no visa to come here but got on a boat, arrived at Ellis Island with no money, no high school education, but excited to work hard in a factory job. She said “I would not be here today if Trump’s polices were in force then.”
One couple, Dana and Nancy Yurcisin, with diverse ancestors including from Ukraine, took a broad view: “It’s our job to build back what Trump is tearing down. You can’t be silent. That’s being complicit.“ The slogan “Help not handcuffs” well summarizes what Trump is not providing, but what is most needed in this crisis.