On a holiday established to honor U.S. presidents, protesters rallied across the country and in New Jersey to condemn the 45th — parodied in effigy as a giant, inflatable chicken in Newark. Immigration advocates criticized Donald Trump’s Friday declaration of a national emergency, designed to obtain money Congress denied him for a border wall from other sources in the federal budget.
“We know that there is no impending war and no direct national security threat to the United States southern border. The security threat is Donald Trump himself,” said Nedia Morsy, lead organizer for Make the Road NJ.
“Millions of Americans without health insurance is a real emergency. There are plenty of real emergencies to invest our tax money in,” said SOMA Action Trustee Kelly Quirk.
The president intends to collect nearly $8 billion for his proposed border wall to confront what he calls an emergency.
“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” Trump said. “We have a chance of getting close to $8 billion — whether it’s $8 billion, or $2 billion or $1.5 billion — it’s going to build a lot of wall. We’re getting it done.”
Trump said Friday he expected to be sued, and New Jersey will reportedly be among at least seven states that will join California in a legal challenge to the declaration. The national ACLU will also file suit, according to a New Jersey representative of the organization.
“We believe that what the president is doing is unconstitutional. It’s a power grab. He’s trying to ignore checks and balances, which is what protects us,” said Andrea Long, donor relations manager for ACLU-NJ.
Protesters pointed to the millions ICE spends housing immigration detainees — more than $100 per person, per day at facilities like the Essex County Jail — which holds several hundred. According to a report from Homeland Security’s inspector general, an inspection last July turned up numerous violations, including a loaded gun left by a guard in the staff bathroom and found by a detainee cleaning crew; mold, peeling paint, and leaking ceilings and contaminated food. ICE said it’s addressed the problems, and noted in a statement, “ICE is committed to continually enhancing the safety, rights, and health of detainees in ICE’s care.”
“I am upset by the way my tax dollar is used. And to see it’s actually used to put in detention members of our communities, it’s an outrage,” said Serges Demefack, coordinator for the End Detention and Deportation Project at American Friends Service Committee.
As for the emergency declaration, Republican Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo stated, “There’s a crisis at our southern border and President Trump is doing what needs to be done to secure our nation. Republicans tried in good faith to negotiate a deal, but Democrats have prioritized illegal immigration over legal immigration.”
“These marches and these rallies, they matter. The judges see it and they pay attention. So please, keep coming out, keep marching. We need your support,” Long said.
Activists said they will lobby New Jersey’s congressional delegation and ask them to fight the emergency declaration, on the Hill and in the courts.