By Louise Witt
With temperatures dipping below freezing and winds making it seem much colder, about 200 protesters gathered on the Morristown Green Monday evening for a Presidents Day rally to denounce President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border, and to call for humane immigration policies.
Several in the crowd either were immigrants themselves or children of immigrants. Yana Kane-Esrig of Madison immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1979 with her family as refugees, when she was 16.
“I think this is appalling,” Kane-Esrig said, standing next to her father, who had just addressed the crowd about the need for compassion for asylum seekers.
“You have to start with the presumption that every human being is a human being,” she said. “You can’t start with the presumption some human beings are dirt. You can’t treat humans this way. Otherwise, what is this country about? This country has a very dark history, but it has ideals. We have to live up to our ideals, not what is the worst in us.”
Morristown’s protest was one of dozens of events across the country organized with help from Moveon.org to protest Trump’s national emergency declaration to divert defense- and counter narcotics funding to build a border wall, after Congress refused to give him the amount he requested.
On Monday, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced New Jersey is joining California and 14 other states suing to nullify Trump’s decision.
“The real national emergency is a President who refuses to adhere to the rule of law,” Grewal said in a statement.
At a press conference Friday, the president said he didn’t need to declare an emergency.
“I didn’t need to do this,” he said, “but I’d rather do it much faster.”
“I couldn’t sit this one out,” said Ann Rea of Clifton, holding a handwritten sign proclaiming Fake Emergency, Get Down Off Your Throne. “I’m so outraged. This president is trying to destroy our government.”
Standing in front of an inflatable chicken with an uncanny likeness to President Trump, the so-called Tre45on Rooster, Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty said he came to the rally to support local citizens who are upset at the president’s manufactured emergency.
“There have to be checks and balances,” Dougherty said. “It’s there in our Constitution clearly for a reason, so one person doesn’t have ultimate power of the purse. And that’s the job of the Congress.
“I hope that they continue to fight for it… Hopefully, the Democrats will hold it together, and, in two years, we’ll have a new president,” the mayor said.
For many participants at the protest, the president’s action highlighted the need to tackle hard-line immigration policies.
Brian Lozano, community organizer for the Wind of Spirit Immigrant Resource Center, a Morristown nonprofit and one of the hosts to the event, urged the crowed to push for immigration reform on the national as well as state level.
While the nation’s attention focuses on immigrant children being separated from their parents at the southern border, he said undocumented immigrants in New Jersey are detained and separated from their families if they can’t produce a driver’s license. He urged voters to back state candidates who support driver licenses for undocumented immigrants.
“There is no state of emergency right now at our southern border,” Lozano told the crowd.
The emergency, he said, is Central Americans fleeing unrest and violence in their countries and seeking opportunities in the U.S. Lozano said more funds are needed to help process asylum applications.
“We’re the land of the free, so let’s live up to that,” he said.
Julia Gillies, an activist from Rockaway, said Trump’s national emergency declaration takes attention away from “real national emergencies,” such as immigrant child separations, private detention centers for immigrants and deaths from drug overdoses.
In 2017, more than 70,000 Americans died from overdoses. Under the national emergency powers, the Trump administration will transfer funds from drug interdiction to barriers. “It’s heartbreaking,” Gillies said.
West Caldwell resident Jack Gavin, also known as the Facts Matter Man, passed out pocket copies of the Constitution.
Gavin said Trump might have overreached with his national emergency declaration. Some Republicans may break with the president for exceeding his executive authority. “It may be a bridge too far for some of them,” he said.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), texted Saturday that Trump’s action is a “misuse of presidential power, given Congress’ clear intent.” She went on to write that she is concerned about the emergency declaration’s “likely impact on our military readiness, military families and projects at Picatinny Arsenal.”
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7th Dist.) tweeted that he would co-sponsor a resolution to revoke the emergency declaration.
“This isn’t about building or stopping the wall: It’s about defending the constitution,” the congressman said.
Judith Dunham, of Morristown, and Robin Plattman, of Berkeley Heights, wrapped themselves in Mylar blankets to keep warm.
“There’s so much to be outraged about,” Dunham said. “President Donald Trump has got to go. He is ruining our country. It’s enough.”
A couple from Bloomfield, holding their two bundled children, posed next to the Trump chicken. The father said they decided to attend the protest to show support for immigrants.
“We are children of immigrants,” he said. “And we are also here to show our children the process of protest and how to stand to stand up to the president who is doing something wrong.”