Family separations at the border: Where New Jersey elected officials stand

Thousands of children have been separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border since April.

That’s when the Trump administration enacted its “zero tolerance” immigration policy that calls for all cases of illegal entry to be referred for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

Stories of weeping children torn from the arms of their frightened parents have flooded the media and the policy has been widely criticized by church groups, politicians and children’s advocates who say it is inhumane.

The pressure mounted for President Donald Trump to end the practice. He signed an executive order on June 20 to stop separating families but said his “zero tolerance” prosecution policy will continue.

PIX11 News has reached out to elected officials in New Jersey to learn where they stand on the policy. You can read their responses below. This article will be updated with additional statements as they come in.

GOVERNOR

U.S. SENATORS

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in a statement from his office referred to the senator’s comments addressing the issue in this video and this video.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in a press release from his office says:

“U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continued to call for the Trump Administration to end the crisis at the U.S. border caused by its zero tolerance policy separating immigrant families, pointing out that there’s nothing in the law that requires the Administration to tear children away from their parents. Just yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed that 2,342 children were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9 –an average of 70 children ripped away from their parents a day– and a new poll revealed that majority of Americans oppose the Republican Party’s anti-immigrant agenda with 66% disapproving of Trump’s cruel policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.

“The Office of Senator Menendez released a video juxtaposing the famous Statue of Liberty poem against footage Customs & Border Patrol released and audio ProPublica released from inside a detention center.”

STATE SENATORS

Sen. Nellie Pou in a statement (D-NJ 35th District) in a statement says:

“These past months, the world has been horrified to witness what has been occurring at our southern border. Immigrant parents trying to enter the United States are being separated from their children. Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents from April through May according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“These children are being used as bargaining chips by the Trump administration in its plan to have Congress pay for an ill-advised border wall. Children are not political pawns. If we can agree on anything in these divisive times, it should be that families are sacred. That regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we stand for and stand with families.

“The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy is inhumane. The president’s executive order which may put an end to this insidious policy offers a small ray of hope. But it is troubling that the images and sounds of children being taken from parents, of tent cities and even of a massive detention center inside a former Walmart did not bring an immediate cry of indignation from the White House.

“As the chairwoman of the New Jersey Legislative Latino Caucus, I am well aware of the struggles of the Latino community both here in New Jersey and across the nation. I am well aware that the nationalist rhetoric that has been given fake legitimacy in recent years has shouted out the cries for rational and compassionate immigration reform.

“We need to shape fair, humane immigration policy that includes giving legal status to DREAMERS and protects the sanctity of families. Whatever we do, though, we can never forget that all immigrants are people who dream of a better life.

“What has been happening at our southern border is a painful reminder that as extraordinary as our nation is, we cannot take it and its values for granted.”

U.S. REPRESENTATIVES 

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ 1st District) in a statement says:

“Forcibly separating children from their families at the border is immoral and un-American. I strongly oppose the administration’s actions and I do not believe our government should be warehousing children in Walmarts.

“I helped introduce legislation in Congress that officially denounces these immoral actions and calls for the immediate reversal of this policy (H.Res.927). I also support the Keep Families Together Act, which prevents family separation, limits criminal prosecutions for asylum seekers and increases child welfare training (H.R.6135).”

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ 3rd District) in a statement says:

“I have stated emphatically that the separation of children from their parents must stop immediately. I believe that President Trump can and should put a stop to it immediately. If he will not, Congress must act. I do not believe children should be used as bargaining chips or as a deterrent. Let us remember, the ACLU sued President Obama’s Administration for detaining families as an intimidation tactic. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

“I will support legislation that ends the practice of separating families, whether it be a stand-alone bill or as a piece of a larger bill. We must not return to the practice of ‘catch and release’, though. I will support efforts to approve funding for DHS family residential centers, which will keep families together and allow for a thorough review of each case. DHS has reported a 315 percent increase in the cases of adults with minors falsely claiming to be family units from October 2017 through February 2018. Children are being taken advantage of by those with ill-intentions and we must not let that happen.

“I will also support legislation that increases security at our borders and gives Dreamers a legal path forward without letting them jump the line. We can deal with the big issues facing our nation on immigration, if we cut through the nonsense and actually work together. While some are resorting to inflammatory rhetoric and others are rejecting anything short of an open-border policy, I refuse to get caught up in the drama. We have a job to do and I intend to do my part.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ 4th District) in a statement says:

“There is nothing more important than protecting vulnerable children from physical and psychological harm. The policy of forcibly separating children from their parent or parents at the U.S. border is seriously wrong, hurts families, and needs to immediately end.

“The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security must halt the practice of family separations, except in the cases of criminal felonies by an adult including rape, murder, sexual assault on a minor, or human trafficking.

“Without delay, Congress must pass legislation to permanently prohibit the egregious practice of family separation.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ 5th District) in a statement says:

“We live in the greatest country in the world, and we cannot sit idly by as children are being torn from their parents’ arms. I join voices on both sides of the aisle in calling for an end to this practice, which doesn’t benefit our national security and goes against our shared Jersey Values — and our American Values. I will keep fighting to achieve a bipartisan solution that protects our borders without ripping families apart and lives up to our ideals as Americans.”

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ 7th District) in a statement from his office referred PIX11 News to this editorial and this column.

Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ 8th District) in a press release says:

Today, Congressman Sires joined more than 190 of his fellow House Democrats as an original cosponsor on H.R. 6135, the Keep Families Together Act, introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY). This bill would prohibit the mass family separation that is a direct result of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. The introduction of H.R. 6135 follows a visit by Rep. Sires, Rep. Nadler, and five of their colleagues to the ICE detention facility in Elizabeth, NJ to speak with fathers who had been separated from their children. ICE officials denied the Representatives access for hours before finally relenting and allowing them to meet with the fathers.

“This bill must be passed immediately to end the horrible policy of separating families at the border and ensure that they are reunited without delay.” stated Rep. Sires. “These men fled their home countries with their families in the face of violence to seek asylum in the United States because they feared for their lives and their children’s lives. Now, they do not even know where their children are or when they will see them again. I am heartbroken and outraged that the country that welcomed my family when we were fleeing the Castro regime has become a place of such cruelty to those seeking safety.”

The Keep Families Together Act is a companion bill to legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Diane Feinstein earlier this month and would prohibit Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials from separating families in all but the most extraordinary situations. It would also require DHS to create policies and procedures to help parents and children locate each other and reunite. In addition, it limits the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers which would prevent families seeking asylum from being prosecuted under the “zero tolerance” policy.

“The Trump Administration has decided that separating thousands of terrified children from their parents and keeping them in detention facilities is an acceptable course of action. This policy is inhumane, unnecessary, and un-American. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the Keep Families Together Act and bring an end to this cruel policy of separating families at the border” expressed Rep. Sires.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ 9th District) in statements says:

After making a surprise visit to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Elizabeth, N.J., on June 17:

“What we saw here today was heartbreaking. Parents are being held prisoner inside, literally crying to us to be reunited with their families. These are people trying to escape extreme violence and poverty. What is happening to them is despicable. It is a sin.

“Trump and Sessions say they are following laws. That is a lie. There are no laws requiring families to be ripped apart. Trump claims Democrats are to blame for families being broken up. That is a lie. Republicans control every branch of government. For over a decade Republicans have rejected every single immigration compromise put before them. They are making these disgraces happen every day. On this Father’s Day I get to go home to see my children and my grandchildren. These poor souls don’t get that luxury. My heart aches for every one of them.

“We came here today to tell this administration that this country still believes in the words inscribed on Liberty Island that greeted millions of our forefathers. That America welcomes the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. That America doesn’t put them in tent cities and tear their children away. We will have zero tolerance for any deviations from the words on the Statue of Liberty.”

On the Keep Families Together Act introduced on June 20:

“What I saw in Elizabeth on Father’s Day broke my heart. And then I watched the reprehensible performance from the DHS Secretary at the White House. Trump can tweet all night long blaming everybody under the sun. But this is a deliberate choice. This administration is purposely ripping families apart to divide this country and to build Trump’s stupid wall. The time to act is now. The Keep Families Together Act would end the practice of separating families. It should pass unanimously. It’s a big litmus test for the Republican caucus. If you support families, if you support humanity, if you support the words on the Statue of Liberty, you will support it.”

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ 11th District) in a statement says:

“I oppose the cruel ‘zero tolerance’ policy that is separating children from their parents near our southern border. Until a humane solution is developed, this policy should be suspended.”

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ 12th District) in a statement says:

“It’s hard to find words to describe the policy of separating children from their mothers and fathers as they seek safety from violence and persecution. Words like cruel, inhumane and heartless have been used, but they fall short. The idea that we are ripping terrified kids away from the only sense of safety that they have, that a nation built by immigrants into the leader of the free world is punishing people by placing them and their children in what amounts to separate cages, is disgusting.

“It’s insulting that President Trump, Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Nielsen and the entire administration have lied to the American people about their role in creating and implementing this policy. It is asinine that the Republican leadership of both the House and Senate have turned blind eyes to this travesty. And it is infuriating that the leaders of the United States of America have lowered themselves to this.

“This should force a reckoning for every person in this country about how we see ourselves as Americans – whether we can look our own children in the eyes knowing that there are infants and toddlers crying for their parents, whether we should expect our leaders to do better by passing laws that ensure due process and humane treatment of everyone who comes to our borders, and whether we will allow the elected officials who have not just allowed, but championed this policy to continue to hold their seats.

“I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act, and I’ve joined a number of Members of Congress in calling for the resignation of Secretary Nielsen. We need to put a stop to this in whatever way we can.