CAMDEN, NJ—After two weeks and the introduction of a legislative bill, U.S. Donald Norcross was able to visit a South Jersey facility that houses children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Norcross held a press conference on the porch of the Camden-based Center for Family Services late Monday afternoon to talk about what he had seen on his visit.
“What I saw was a facility that you would be proud to put your children in,” said Norcross. “The young man who was part of this policy of separation, was a very nice young man who had the opportunity to speak with his family through Skype a couple of times.”
Two weeks ago Norcross tried to visit the facility run by the Center for Family Services, but was told he had to wait two weeks by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Later that week, he announced legislation he helped introduce to allow for members of Congress to immediately visit with those children, The Restoring Oversight for Members of Congress Act.
“I wanted to go and make sure these children were being held in an appropriate manner, one that is worthy of being called and American system, but [HHS] refused to waive that, even in these extreme circumstances,” said Norcross, who added that the HHS did not send representative along for Norcross’ visit.
According to Rich Stagliano, President and CEO of the Center for Family Services, the nonprofit began working with the federal government about a year ago to provide housing and care for unaccompanied minors who had crossed the border. Currently, it provides shelter, education, counseling and legal services to 28 children housed in its shelters across South Jersey.
In recent months it has also housed three teenagers ages 13 to 17 who were forced to be separated from their families as a result of the new zero-tolerance policy, said Chief Operating Officer Eileen Henderson.
Two of those children have been reunited with close family members or relatives, according to Henderson, and one still remains at the facility. Norcross said that he had a limited conversation with the teenager on Monday.
“The first thing that came to my mind was those could be my grandchildren, they looked happy,” said Norcross.
According to Stagliano, the average stay for the unaccompanied minors is about 35 days.
“In addition to meeting basic needs like medical, food, clothing and a nice safe warm place to sleep, they receive professional therapeutic counseling from licensed staff,” said Henderson.
The Center for Family Services also provides case managers for each child to work closely with the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“Ripping families apart is not what we do as a country. The Trump Administration’s policy that inhumanly detains immigrant kids is repulsive and un-American, how could anyone with a heart think this was a good idea,” said Norcross.