NEWARK, NJ (September 15, 2009) - Ten communities throughout New Jersey are holding "Children’s Vigils" today as a part of a coordinated campaign by Pax Christi NJ and NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees called "We Are One Human Family" in support of children at risk of family separation because of immigration detentions or deportations. Immigrant rights advocates and religious leaders will gather with families at churches, parks and town halls in Bridgeton, Dumont, Freehold, Hightstown, Jersey City, Highland Park, Keyport, Montclair, Morristown, and Newark in support of the rights of millions of children living in families in which at least one parent is an immigrant.
Members of the community will bear witness to the ordeals of immigrant and mixed-immigration status families including long or permanent separation and denial of basic rights. Vigil participants will join in a call for federal immigration legislation that respects human rights, particularly family unity. "If you take a parent away and send them back to their native land, you are fracturing a family. Anything we can do to keep these families safe and together is worth our prayers," said Fr. Patrick McDonnell, pastor, St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church, Hightstown.
Vigil participants will also call for an end to immigration raids, detentions and deportation because they separate families. It is estimated that in New Jersey around 1,000 immigrants are currently detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center and county jails for suspected violation of immigration laws. Detention Watch Network estimates that the policy of detaining immigrants and asylum seekers is costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year. "Policies meant to improve public safety are instead sweeping up thousands of families and leaving children behind" said Chia-Chia Wang of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program.
Jocelyn, the young daughter of Harry Pangemanan, a member of the Highland Park Reformed Church who spent several months in immigration detention last year, recalls visiting her father at the Elizabeth Detention Center. “Daddy, I cried when we came to visit you and I couldn’t hug you through the glass.” Pauline, a resident of Newark and mother of three, stated “Ever since I was released from immigration detention, I have to report to the immigration office every month. Each time, my children are afraid that I would disappear and never come home again. This is the nightmare that my children have been going through. ”
Also at issue for vigil organizers is the participation of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and the town of Morristown in a federal program that enables local law enforcement to take on immigration enforcement responsibilities. Advocates believe this will split their communities even further. “The people here in Morristown reject the idea that immigrants are to be treated like criminals,” said Vigil co-organizer Diana Mejia of Wind of the Spirit in Morristown. “People in our community from all walks of life are coming out in droves in support of all families who work and live in our town – with or without papers. We are all members of the same community.”