Candidate travels to Texas to see detention center
By: AARON CERBONE
TUPPER LAKE — Returning from a last-minute trip to Tornillo, Texas, congressional candidate Emily Martz stopped into P-2’s Irish Pub in Tupper Lake to talk with residents about what she had seen at the child detention centers on the southern border.
She was “still processing it all,” and though she cheerily chatted with supporters over chicken wings, her attitude and demeanor shifted when she spoke of the situation in Texas. She was visibly upset by what she had learned there.
“This was government-sanctioned child abuse; let’s hope this is the low point,” Martz said. “What kind of crime is it to flee violence? What would you do?”
Since May, 2,342 children have been separated from their parents while crossing the border illegally, a misdemeanor, according to National Public Radio. When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told border prosecutors to “adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy,” he included prosecuting parents crossing the border illegally with children and people who requested asylum.
The administrations of presidents Barack Obama and George Bush also occasionally separated families crossing the border illegally, but not to the extent of Donald Trump’s administration. This is because, as White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said and Session’s implied, the prosecuting and separating of families is being used as a deterrent.
Democratic congressional candidate Emily Martz speaks with people at P-2’s Irish Pub in Tupper Lake about her trip to the southern border’s detention camps. Martz had flown in from Texas mere hours after the whirlwind 48 hour trip. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)
Martz, of Saranac Lake, said she chose to visit the tent camps, where children caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with their families are being detained, because she didn’t want to write legislation or talk about the treatment of the kids without seeing the centers firsthand.
It was a hurried and unexpected decision, pitched, decided and planned in a 9 a.m. meeting on Monday. Martz was in the Albany airport by 3 p.m. and arrived in El Paso at 1 a.m. to drive to the border city on the west side of the state.
In the next 48 hours, she attended a protest, saw a line of adolescent boys being led into the detention center, visited the border wall and spoke with the director of Health and Human Services, the federal agency in charge of the campgrounds.
Martz and her Communications Director Christopher Di Mezzo said they learned that Health and Human Services was not too enthusiastic about the new responsibilities the policy change pushed on the agency.
“Imagine what it’s like to be the receiver of someone’s child who is traumatized,” Martz said.
Martz said she was there to bring the images, stories and facts back to New York’s 21st Congressional District, taking videos of air-conditioned tents and chain-link fences where the children are being housed, speaking with a Mexican woman who had been separated from her family as a child and learning about the great lengths families will go to to seek asylum in America.
She said the idea that gang members and drug dealers are using children to slip over the border is “a racist thing to say,” pointing out that the people seeking asylum are usually fleeing gang violence. In Latin American towns run by gangs, she said, families who have a sour relationship with the ruling gang may risk death, injury or rape, and have little choice but to seek asylum in a country that can protect them.
She said many of the children and their families come from South American countries and had to first illegally cross into Mexico on their journey north. The penalty for illegally crossing Mexico’s border is much harsher than the U.S.’s.
On the trip, they saw a footbridge with Mexican workers traveling from the Mexican border city of Juarez to Tornillo to work as nannies or landscapers. Every day they make the trip and return at night to their homes in Mexico. The cities have a “symbiotic” relationship, she said.
“Our country cannot prosper without immigrants; we have a declining population,” Martz said. “We know in our own region there are jobs that Americans don’t want to do.”
Martz said that, if elected, she will push for more immigration funding, hiring more workers, making the system easier for asylum seekers and monitoring visas to make sure recipients leave after their visa expires.
“There are not enough border agents and there are not enough attorneys,” Martz said. “There’s no exit system. In other words, the Department of Homeland Security monitors visas as people come in, but there’s no system for tracking people once they have a visa.
“Anything that absolutely needs funding, you look at the corporate tax breaks,” Martz said. “Now we’re getting into the priorities of the country. It seems the priorities are about helping those who already have, instead of helping those who are working hard.”
On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order reversing the policy and permitting families to be detained together without a time limit. The order has not addressed what will happen with the children already housed in detention centers.
“I am pleased that President Trump signed an executive order that takes important steps to stop family separations at our border, but ultimately this issue and many others need to be resolved through the legislative process,” U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik said. “For too long, both parties have kicked the can on immigration reform, and it’s time for Congress to finally act.”
Martz said this was too little too late, and that the congresswoman should have been speaking against the policy from the beginning.
“She’s a coward. She is more interested in keeping her job than she is interested in setting up a process,” Martz said. “She’s acting like an armchair legislator.”
“Separating children from their parents does not fit the mold of family values I was taught America believes in. [George] H.W. [Bush] didn’t support it, Reagan didn’t support it, and I don’t support it,” Democratic candidate Katie Wilson wrote in an email. “The EO signed yesterday (after pressure from the Presidents own wife and daughter) substituted putting children in cages with putting whole families in cages and Stefanik’s refusal to stand up to this immoral policy speaks volumes about her fitness for office.”
“This replacement isn’t sufficient. Indefinite detention of families, while families are not being separated, we’re still locking people in cages. The important point is that the seeking of asylum in this country is not against the law,”Democratic candidate Patrick Nelson said. “Not to mention that the president now admits that he’s been lying to us since April … I mean, not that that’s anything new.”
“Seeing the images of children being ripped from their parents’ arms and put into jail cells is horrifying,”Democratic candidate Tedra Cobb wrote in an email. “[Wednesday’s] announcement doesn’t change the fact that thousands of these children will not be reunited with their families. It’s unjust, and it doesn’t reflect who we are as a country.”
“I pray the attention now given to family separation at the border opens all our eyes to the devastation delivered by state agencies and the $50 billion, for-profit foster care system in America,” Green Party candidate Lynn Kahn wrote in an email. “On an average day, about 500,000 children are forced to live with strangers or in group settings where they are far more likely to be traumatized, abused, over-medicated or sexually trafficked then if they had stayed with their biological families. We must demand all efforts in all government agency prioritize family preservation and the well-being of our children.”