ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Tri-State lawmakers paid a surprise visit to an immigration detention center in New Jersey on Sunday.
Activists outside the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Elizabeth were joined by seven congressional Democrats. They wanted to get inside and were initially denied entry, but they refused to leave the reception area until they were allowed in to talk to detainees.
“Heartbreaking stories, separated from the children at the border,” New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-12th) said.
“Today, Father’s Day, we spoke to fathers whose children have been ripped from their arms,” New York Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-10th) said, “who have no idea when or if they will see their children again.”
The lawmakers promised new legislation on the issue to be introduced in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
“It has to stop,” Maloney said. “We are united in going back to Congress and fighting for it.”
Sunday’s display comes days after the Department of Homeland Security confirmed it had separated at least 2,000 children from parents at the border in the past 45 days, a practice designed to discourage parents from bringing children across the border illegally.
Stopping the separations has some support from politicians on both sides of the aisle, but former adviser to President Donald Trump Steve Bannon said the tough policy should not change.
“Zero tolerance, it’s a crime to come across illegally and children get separated,” he said on ABC This Week.
Current White House counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, saying nobody likes separating children and the president wants it to end. Democrats say the president could do that on his own, but Conway countered and insisted it’s the administration’s position that Congress must act.
“Congress passed a law that it’s a crime,” Conway said Sunday. “This is a congressional law from many years ago that it is a crime to enter this country illegally. So if they don’t like that law they should change it.”
First Lady Melania Trump weighed in on the family separation controversy, with a statement saying in part, “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform.”
Lawmakers say they waited about 90 minutes to get into the center, which is operated for the government by a private contractor.