By Michael Hill
They chanted outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE office, on Broad Street, demanding the feds back off of targeting and deporting immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They say the raids have struck fear during and after the holidays.
“We’re afraid of going to work. We’re afraid of driving,” said Joanna Calle of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
ICE says it’s deporting immigrants who came to the USA “illegally” after May 2014 and last weekend, it took 121 in to custody in other states. Yet advocates here insist ICE is raiding and rounding up immigrants in New Jersey, including one raid this morning in Freehold.
“They broke down the door. The family was sleeping in their beds and they terrorized the family,” said Casa Freehold Director Rita Dentino.
But, an ICE spokesperson tells NJTV News, “We are not conducting any targeted operations in New Jersey at this time. The people and families who have been identified all had their opportunities to present their claims to an immigration judge and exhausted due process. They are subject to the final orders of removal. We must enforce the law.”
Critics charge the ICE targeted operation looks like something out of a Donald Trump playbook as opposed to one for President Obama.
“This is the most aggressive that I have seen it and it’s the most horrible,” Dentino said.
“Even those who have documentation in the United States are fearful that they will be taken up in raids because these raids are being carried out in an unconstitutional manner,” said American Friends Service Committee Youth Lawyer Kimberly Krone.
Sen. Bob Menendez issued a statement saying, “These raids illustrate the many painful aspects of a system that has failed, including harsh tactics facing undocumented mothers and children whose only mistake was to escape a certain death in their native countries.”
Menendez says, “I have deep concerns of the chilling effect these home raids will have among immigrant communities who will understandably be terrified and deterred from approaching law enforcement to report crimes and forced further into the shadows.”
But, state lawmaker Holly Schepisi says deporting those deemed not fit to be here is the right thing to do.
“Very rarely will you see my agreeing with President Obama, but here you have a situation with one of the most pro-immigration presidents that our country has ever seen saying we’ve got to go and enforce the law,” she said. “I think that there are legitimate security issues behind it. I think there are legitimate policy reasons behind it.”
Democrats have accused the president of turning his back on his liberal base, but the administration insists the ICE action is consistent with the president’s priorities.
ICE in New Jersey says deportations are common — last year immigration judges ordered the deportation of nearly 2,000 New Jersey immigrants — 90 percent of them because of some criminal association.