Locals Rally To Keep Immigrant Families Together

Local nonprofits, residents, and immigrant families gathered outside of Congressman Chris Smith’s Freehold Office to protest the persistent separation of families at our nation’s border. (Photo courtesy Wendy Sabin)

FREEHOLD – A combination of nonprofit organizations, concerned residents, and immigrants gathered outside of Congressman Chris Smith’s Monmouth County office in Freehold to protest the separation of families at the border.

Casa Freehold, New Labor, Families Belong Together, Greater Red Bank Women’s Initiative and others made up a crowd of nearly 100 people to rally for change. This was yet another protest, in a series of weekly demonstrations that have been going on outside of Congressman Smith’s (R-4th) office since Trump was elected.

Smith said after the rally that he is against the separation of families.

Rita Dentino, executive director of Casa Freehold, a nonprofit organization, spoke at the protest alongside various immigrant families, providing personal accounts of their experiences with separation and deportation, to demonstrate the suffering it causes for these families.

“Casa Freehold is appalled at the separation of children from their parents at our southern border. We are part of a national campaign demanding that this practice end, that parents and children be reunited, and that those seeking asylum be allowed to move forward with their cases,” said Dentino.

Photo courtesy Wendy Sabin

Brian Lee, an attendee at the rally, noted in a social media post the essence of the demonstration: “Horrified by news of children being torn from parents by the Trump regime, people showed up en masse outside Rep. Chris Smith’s Freehold office to demand action – to keep families together, not just at the border, but everywhere.”

Dentino remarked that she was thrilled at the turnout at the event and that the organizations involved received a “beautiful response” to what they were doing.

“From our side, we feel it’s a national emergency,” she said.

Dentino referred to the act of separating families as “torture” for those involved. A major part of the rally was to give voice to some of those affected by this.

Elizabeth, a young teenager, told her story to the crowd, explaining that her father is facing deportation despite having a clean record. She said that through these rough times, she has even started receiving therapy.

“But if my dad gets deported, I don’t think I can get better without my dad,” she said, fighting back tears.

Another speaker at the event was Carla, who spoke in favor of keeping her immigrant mother in the U.S. Facing heckling from passersby, Carla noted that she still felt empowered by being a part of the rally.

Dentino said that the families who spoke at the rally were brave, but they were also very frightened.

One of the organizers of the rally, Casa Freehold, is a part of the national campaign Families Belong Together. The campaign’s website allows you to find a rally near you, as well as learn a little bit more about the issue at hand.

It reads: “ICE, Border Patrol, and other Homeland Security agencies are taking the children of immigrants and asylum-seekers and sending them to faraway detention centers…But the Trump administration is showing signs that it will bend to public pressure. That tells us that if enough of us raise our voices, we can end this practice for good.”

Dentino also noted that Casa Freehold welcomes all immigrants and refugees, helping new arrivals to get acclimated. The organization’s website states that its mission is “to lay a foundation for empowerment so that immigrants can learn how to address their needs and assist others as they integrate into the community.”

Casa Freehold helps to ensure that laborers receive fair wages, offer classes in ESL, OSHA health, safety, and computer knowledge, among others, and they also address issues like health care, housing, and immigrants’ rights, as we can see from their participation in the rally.

“Day by day, another horrible thing is happening,” said Dentino, and this rally was their way of trying to curb this progression.

Not only this, but Dentino wants to reverse some of the effects that this separation has already had. “They need to reunite children that have already been separated,” she added.

A question that Dentino would like to leave everyone with is this: What will happen to the families if this keeps going?

According to the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ICE conducted 226,119 removals in 2017.

Photo courtesy Wendy Sabin

Policy changes to ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in 2017 showed an increase in enforcement actions. “The trend of increased enforcement actions began shortly after the change in administration on January 20, 2017,” stated ICE’s website.

Records show that interior removals of “aliens” have increased in good part from 2016 to 2017.

For more information and ICE statistics pertaining to immigration removals, visit ice.gov/removal-statistics/2017#wcm-survey-target-id.

While many are still rallying for change, legislators are considering changing immigration laws. As of press time, no new vote had passed, but there were discussions on the number of immigrants allowed, the process for Dreamers, and a border wall.

Congressman Smith released a statement in response to the rally, noting: “The policy of separating families at the U.S. border is wrong and needs to be immediately reversed. We will be voting on legislation to end this practice as part of a larger reform package that will include other provisions such as a legislative solution for the Dreamers, giving them certainty and the ability to go to school and work, and pursue a pathway to legalization.”