NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — A march and rally that spread through the city today took on a more intimate and pressing tone than similar protests in the recent past.
That’s because the fears of activists who are in favor of immigrants and against President Donald Trump have been realized, in New Brunswick and beyond.
Not long ago, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers reportedly arrested an individual at the Middlesex County courthouse on Bayard Street. Then a series of ICE raids resulted in several arrests and roughly a dozen detentions throughout the city. And now, an undocumented Rutgers University student—who’s supposed to be protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order—is facing deportation.
“If DACA recipients are being deported, then DACA is not enough,” that student, Carimer Andujar, told a crowd assembled early this afternoon at Voorhees Mall. “What needs to happen is that undocumented people who have never committed a crime need to be granted amnesty—people like me.”
Over the past week, Andujar has become something of a folk hero in New Brunswick’s left-leaning activist community. While immigration officials have refused to comment on why they’re targeting Andujar, she and other activists suspect it’s because she’s the outspoken founder and president of UndocuRutgers, a campus group that lobbies for students who are undocumented immigrants.
Today’s march and rally merged several causes. It served as a rally for immigrants and their contributions to the community, a traditional May Day demonstration in support of workers, a cry against Trump’s executive order temporarily banning people from some Muslim-majority countries, a plea to make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” for immigrants and a defense of Andujar.
“Workers’ rights are immigrants’ rights,” one activist said, “and immigrants’ rights are workers’ rights.”
The demonstration began around 10 a.m. in Oaxaca Park and by about 11:15 a.m. moved to Monument Square Park. There, activists held banners and signs, beat a drum and chanted for immigrants’ rights and sanctuary.
Teresa Vivar, a pro-Latino activist, described the 11-year history of the May Day march in New Brunswick. After praising city cops and Rutgers students for their role in fostering the protest, she blasted Trump for what she said are discriminatory policies that affect nearly everyone.
Another activist, Ellen Whitt of the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War, urged protesters to continue to take their concerns to city council and county freeholders board meetings.
From there, the activists walked along George Street and turned left onto Albany Street, where they eventually encountered a workers’ memorial ceremony being held by Middlesex County. Various freeholders, administrators and other local figures were in attendance.
A police officer quickly approached the protesters, causing them to leave the scene and make their way to Voorhees Mall, on Rutgers’ College Avenue Campus.
Dozens—if not a hundred—demonstrators came out, calling for greater protections for workers, immigrants and Andujar. Several held signs that read “#HandsOffCarimer,” the social media hashtag that has brought much publicity to the student’s struggle.
“Let us not pretend that this country can thrive without immigration,” said Lucye Millerand, president of the Union of Rutgers Administrators. “We cannot cut ourselves off and pretend that we are a tiny island.”
Several people spoke, calling to keep Rutgers a hub of dissent, democracy and open dialogue. Some undocumented students shared their stories, while others urged students and activists to continue the fight—and to build a concrete agenda.
Only a few conservative counter-protesters in the rear of the crowd held signs and spoke out against the movement.
The rally hit its pinnacle shortly before 1 p.m., when Andujar took the megaphone to applause and shouts. The chemical-engineering student asked the participants to move forward and closer, in a show of unity for their cause.
Andujar, who was born in the Dominican Republic and fled the country at age 4, spent most of her life in New Jersey. She described this state and country as her home.
“People immigrate to this country out of need,” she said. “No one chooses to be an undocumented person.”
In Andujar’s case, her mother came to the U.S. to escape domestic abuse. It’s now unclear whether her daughter will remain.
The 21-year-old thanked her supporters and urged them to attend another rally. It’s set for 9 a.m. May 9 outside the ICE building in Newark—the same time she and her lawyers are slated to sit down with immigration authorities for an “interview.”