ELIZABETH, NJ - Often overlooked in the national debate about the treatment of immigrants being housed at detention facilities along the Southern border and elsewhere in the nation is the treatment of immigrants with disabilities among those being detained. This past Friday a member and staff coordinator from Community Access Unlimited helped voice those concerns at a vigil held outside the Elizabeth Detention Center that drew hundreds.
Community Access Unlimited (CAU) is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports.
The Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps was part of an international evening of protest organized by Lights for Liberty, a coalition dedicated to human rights and the fundamental principles of democracy. The event was held at more than 500 U.S. locations in all 50 states and 13 other nations.
Belinda Malave, a CAU member, and Charlene Walker, community organizer at the agency, were asked to speak at the Elizabeth vigil. They did so representing CAU’s advocacy group, New American Movement for People With Disabilities.
“We spoke about the often forgotten people with different abilities who are being housed in immigration detention centers or at the border,” Walker said. “Many have left their homeland due to a lack of services, medical care, and accessibility. Yet they are being detained in conditions that are inaccessible and without proper medical care once arriving here. Often, no one even recognizes they are a person with different abilities until an advocate gains access and identifies them as such.”
Speaking to the crowd that evening, Walker said, “This movement to close concentration camps includes more than those that have migrated to these arbitrary borders. If you teach or have children, this is your fight. If you are poor or a senior citizen, the attempt to remove over $15 billion from entitlements through this deportation and detention machine makes this your fight! And if you have different abilities, this is definitely your fight.”
Malave spoke both as a Latina and a person with disabilities.
“We demand that disability rights organizations be let into every facility so my brothers and sisters get the care they deserve,” she told the crowd. “It is the law. We need our immigration system fixed. So lawmakers, get to work. Or we will vote you out.”
Malave said she was thrilled to speak at the event.
“I felt like I had a fire in my belly but also a wonderful joy,” she said. “People need to hear from people like me.”