NEWARK, NJ - A group of New Jersey mothers took time to come to Newark with the kind of loved ones recently taken from other mothers: their children.
"It's unconscionable that our government is stealing children from their parents and locking them up in cages," said Christina Liu, a Montclair mom holding her baby daughter, commenting on President Donald Trump's recent aggressive family separation policy regarding migrants attempting to cross into the United States. "My tax dollars are paying for this to happen. We need to let people know that this should not be normalized.We cannot allow this."
Liu was among a group of more than 25 mothers and their babies who marched up Broad Street from Lincoln Park to the Peter W. Rodino Federal Building to protest the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy. One consequence of this initiative is forced family separation, which was abruptly halted on Wednesday in the wake of international and bipartisan domestic outrage.
After a parade of strollers came to a rest at the federal building, a row of mothers sat down and did what comes naturally.
"Nothing gets people more riled up than when you use your breasts for their intended biological purpose of feeding babies," said Allyson Murphy, a lactation consultant from South Orange, who organized what she called 'a different type' of protest. "The emotional ache of having a baby taken, on top of the physical ache when your body is telling you that you need to nurse, and you can't, is utterly heartbreaking."
The fate of the approximately 2,400 children separated at the southern U.S. border from their families, many fleeing some of the world's most violent communities in Mexico and Central America, remains unclear. Many children have already been dispersed to locations across the country, and there appears to be no coordinated plan to bring families back together.
The optics of children being held in chain-link holding pens is something many mothers at the protest could not unsee.
"They're couching this like they're doing something, but they're not," said Kelly Piccola, of South Orange. "Call it what it is. These are concentration camps."
Fathers were also present at the protest.
"Part of my job as a faith leader is to fight injustice all the time. But I'm here today specifically not just as clergy, but with my family," said Michael Howard, a pastor in Morristown. "This is injustice against families and children. Violence against children may be the worst kind of violence."
Before the protesters cleared out, one child spoke out about what it's like to watch what's happening at the border.
"I don't think it's good what Trump is doing to the families who are getting parted from their kids," said Ramona, 8, from Maplewood, who drew pictures portraying the plight of children far less fortunate. "I imagine what it would be like to be parted from my family. I'd be very scared and I'd miss them a lot. I don't want that to happen to other people."