Holding up iconic images of immigrant children on the southern border, about 150 protesters stood outside the ICE Detention Center in Elizabeth and demanded the Trump administration reunite kids and families forcibly separated because of the president’s “zero tolerance” policy.
“It must happen now, and all of us must speak up and stand up for what is right. Bring our children and their mothers and fathers back together and let us show that we can lead as a nation that has compassion, said Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp.
Behind them in the detention center an estimated 300 unauthorized immigrants remain confined, some whose children were torn away at the border, according to attorney and advocate Lauren Major with American Friends Service Committee.
“The level of suffering and desperation these fathers have experienced and are still experiencing is almost impossible to witness,” said Major, “and this problem is not over. Thousands of children have not been returned to their parents.”
That, even though President Trump earlier this week signed an executive order mandating families should be kept together. But it’s apparently created legal confusion and logistical chaos among officials trying to implement the order.
“It doesn’t end the zero tolerance policy. It doesn’t stop criminalizing asylum seekers. Nor does it address how to reunite the thousands of young children already separated from their parents,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.
The administration says 500 children have been returned to parents, but many advocates claim officials reportedly have no comprehensive database and no protocols in place to identify and reunite children with parents, some of whom have already have been deported.
“I refuse to believe that this government could be so cruel and so incompetent as to strip children away from their parents and not identify both,” said Menendez.
“I want the Department of Homeland Security to work on this issue as quickly as possible because I want children reunited with their parents, as quickly as possible, and certainly Congress will monitor that situation closely. And I think this is the highest responsibility of the secretary of Homeland Security,” said Republican Leonard Lance.
The Department of Homeland Security had no comment. The president’s executive order, meanwhile, also told the Department of Defense to prepare “any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families,” and Pentagon officials confirmed they’re readying facilities for 20,000 unaccompanied minors at four southern military bases.
“If you have thousands of kids at a military base, there’s going to be no lawyers there. These kids are going to be in court all alone, expected to fight their case against an ICE prosecuting attorney. I mean, it’s a legal nightmare as well as a humanitarian nightmare,” said Major.
A 1997 settlement says kids can’t be held longer than 20 days before being moved to a licensed, federal shelter. The Trump administration’s challenging that in court. The ACLU’s suing the administration over the zero tolerance policy. And neither House nor Senate has passed a solution, prompting the President to tweet: “Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November. Dems are just playing games.”
Congress continues to struggle with how to deal with the immigration issue, but ultimately, how these children are treated could be decided by the courts.