By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – With a microphone in hand and a sea of white T-shirts surrounding her, Karina Avila denounced what she called an “incomprehensible” practice of separating children from their parents entering the U.S. without legal permission at the United States/Mexico border.
The 23-year-old Long Branch resident said she came to the United States from Mexico with her parents 20 years ago. After spending a summer working at the border in 2016, Avila said she knows what immigrant families are experiencing.
“We are here for human rights,” Avila told a vast crowd at Riverside Gardens Park. “Being able to see your child, being able to be with them, is a basic human right.”
Avila was one of the many spirited marchers who turned out despite the blistering heat Saturday to march through Red Bank as part of the Families Belong Together protests. A national network of 600-plus similar rallies around the country demanded the Trump Administration immediately reunite immigrant children, separated from their families after crossing the border illegally, with those families.
More than 2,300 children have been taken from their families since early May under a “zero tolerance policy” announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which people illegally entering the United States will be subject to criminal prosecution. But in a reversal June 20, President Donald Trump ordered families crossing into the country illegally no longer be separated. However, reports say a large number of children have still not been reunited with their parents. Saturday’s rallies were intended to hasten an end to their separation.
A modest crowd of about 200 gathered at 10 a.m. at Marine Park and marched along Broad Street, Monmouth Street, Maple Avenue and West Front Street before concluding at Riverside Gardens Park. The crowd swelled significantly as hundreds of other marchers joined in from side streets. Police Chief Darren McConnell estimated the crowd size to be 700 to 800 people.
Protestors carried a plethora of colorful signs – some handwritten, others printed out – detailing a blanket opposition to splitting families apart after crossing the border. One marcher even created a cage on the back of his bicycle with a life-sized figure representing an immigrant child locked inside. The protesters also pleaded for friendlier reception to foreigners. Chants of “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” and “Love, not hate. Make America great,” rang through downtown Red Bank during the 30-minute-long march.
There was some opposition. One man on Broad Street told marchers, “If you don’t want to be separated, don’t leave your country.” Passengers in one passing car on West Front Street yelled “Trump, Trump, Trump,” as rally speakers took turns on the microphone and condemned federal immigration policies.
March supporters called for three specific reforms: immediately reuniting separated families; stopping family detention; and ending the “zero tolerance” policy.
Avila, though, said there is enough blame to go around. She spent the summer of 2016 in El Paso, Texas helping migrants who crossed the border without legal permission. Avila noted past administrations were tough on immigration yet didn’t attempt to separate families.
“I’m sure that’s why a lot of you are here because you as parents cannot conceive being separated, ripped apart from your child,” Avila said.
Brenda Codallos, a 21-year-old from Red Bank came to the United States when she was 4 years old. She’s currently enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Codallos also said she couldn’t fathom being separated from her family when they crossed into the United States 17 years ago.
“Right now, this situation hits home for us,” Codallos said. “Especially being a DACA recipient, you know that situation. You at one point could have been separated from your parent.”
Rallying marchers also called for the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that enforces immigration laws inside the country. Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna was vocal.
“I saw a sign that said ‘Abolish ICE.’ I agree with that,” Menna said to the crowd at Riverside Gardens Park.
Many speakers used their platform as a call to action. Other than the DACA Red Bank residents, religious leaders and health professionals who donate their time to serving Red Bank’s Latino community thanked the community for support.
Rabbi Marc Kline of the Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls focused on the argument of religious beliefs versus morality and the impact it has on Americans.
“We’re a nation of strangers. Most of us trace our ancestry to people who fled the horrors of our homeland, seeking peace in a new land of promise,” Kline said. “No one leaves a place they’re welcome and comfortable. Somehow, we all end up here.”
Luisa Rita del Castillo, M.D., is a Little Silver-based pediatrician who heads a bilingual staff that helps Latinos in the greater Red Bank area. Children separated from their parents suffer from “toxic stress,” Castillo said, and she called on supporters to help protect those kids.
“If we keep silent, if we turn our heads away from these cruel policies, we become accomplices of wrongdoing,” she said. “Let’s keep an open heart, let’s keep a clean conscience by continuing to seek a more humane deal for immigrant children and their families.”
Red Bank Latinos are also being supported by Joseluis Memba, pastor-in-charge at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in the borough. Memba serves his Latino congregation and preached humility and understanding when dealing with immigration issues.
“I’m inviting you to take some action,” Memba said. “Look in your neighborhood. See how people live and see how you can help also to bring people together. Because in the end, it’s about bringing people together.”
This article first appeared in the July 5 – 12, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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