Angered by President Donald Trump’s sudden and unprecedented attack on refugees and immigrants, nearly 1,000 protesters from throughout New Jersey demonstrated in the wind-driven cold for hours Sunday outside a privately-operated, for profit prison in Elizabeth.
The march on the Elizabeth Detention Center–owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and operated under contract with the US Department of Homeland Security–was part of a national reaction of outrage against executive orders signed by Trump that suspended entry to the United States by Muslims–including those who were permanent residents of this nation.
“We must do everything we can to resist,” US Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th) told the demonstrators outside the prison in the factory section of the city adjacent to Newark Liberty Airport. Coleman, a member of House panels on homeland security and oversight, said those responsible for suspending entry into the country should be required to explain what they were doing.
So far, three federal judges have issued temporary restraining orders blocking some aspects of the executive orders aimed at Syrian refugees and Muslims from seven Middle East nations–but not from Saudi Arabia. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were from the Saudi kingdom, but Trump has business dealings with the oil-rich monarchy.
Coleman was joined by US Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th) who condemned Trump’s actions.
“It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional and we’re going to fight it,” he said. “I can’t think of anything more abominable than preventing refugees from war–including children–from trying to find peace and freedom in the United States.”
Two Democratic candidates for governor, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Assembyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), also joined the demonstrators who, after an hour-long rally, marched through the industrial area off Dowd Avenue.
“All of us in New Jersey must stand up and object to this,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski called Trump’s actions “nothing more than a sloppy and ignorant attempt to enact a Muslim ban that is fundamentally anti-American.”
As governor, he said, he would shut down for-profit prisons like the Elizabeth Detention Center.
Lesniak compared Trump’s actions to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War 2 and the failure of the US, the United Kingdom and other nations to provide havens for Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities.
“Trump is repeating the darkest moments in our history,” said Lesniak.
Other speakers included US Sen. Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, and Victor DeLuca, the mayor of Maplewood.
The demonstrators were diverse–old,
young, people with canes and walkers, others with children on their shoulders; some wearing head scarves while others had yarmulkes. They chanted “No Ban! No Wall! The USA Welcomes All” and “Say it Loud and Say it Clear–Refugees are Welcome Here” and “No Hate, No Fear, Immigrants Are Welcome Here” and “We Are Not Afraid of You” and “Get Up, Get Down, Immigrant Labor Built This Town.”
Their signs carried the similar themes, a number reciting the hopeful inscription on The Statue of Liberty–“Give me your tired and poor.” Others were tinged with anger, like one that gave a twist to the famous lines of Rev. Martin Niemoller about how the Nazis came for the socialists and Jews and Catholics and he said nothing to stop them–until, finally, he was alone.
But this one was a paraphrase of Niemoller’s dark poetry: “First they came for the Muslims and I said–‘Not this time, motherfucker!'”