Cardinal Tobin blesses immigration protest

tobin Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark moderates a panel at the 2018 World Meeting of Families. | Daniel Ibanez / CNA

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, blessed a group of protesters on Wednesday, as a they demonstrated in front of the city's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. 

The group gathered Sept. 4 to protest the Trump administration's policies that separate children from their parents if the parents are found to have entered the country illegally. Some carried images of children who have died at the border or in U.S. custody. 

Speaking to the crowd, the cardinal offered his own voice in opposition to the policies.

"These draconian measures are not a solution to our broken immigration system. They are violations to human dignity," said Tobin. He encouraged Catholics to contact their elected officials, "and urge them not to manipulate immigrant families as political pawns." 

Tobin also led the group, which was estimated to be in the hundreds, in a recitation of the Rosary. 

Protesters also carried a stylized image of the Madonna and Child depicted as Latin Americans and framed behind a piece of chain-link fencing. 

Some of the group, who had agreed to risk arrest in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, blocked traffic by laying down on the road in the shape of a cross. The number of arrested was not immediately available. 

Wednesday's protest was similar to an event in July staged at the Russell Senate Office Building. 

The Newark demonstration was held one day after the release of a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General which said that children separated from their parents at the border are showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

"According to program directors and mental health clinicians, separated children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress than did children who were not separated," said the report. 

"Separated children experienced heightened feelings of anxiety and loss as a result of their unexpected separation from their parents after their arrival in the United States. For example, some separated children expressed acute grief that caused them to cry inconsolably."

The report made many suggestions as to what can be done to improve the mental health of children who are in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody. 

The report recommended that the ORR "should identify or create resources that can improve facilities' readiness to meet the mental health care needs of children of all ages, including very young children and pre- or non-verbal children." This includes the creation of a "technical assistant group" that would assist facilities with their treatment strategies. 

Among other things, the report suggested that the ORR work to assist facilities with hiring and retaining mental health clinicians, create "therapeutic placement options" for children who are in need of "more intensive mental health treatment," and to "take all reasonable steps" to reduce the time a child has to stay in ORR custody. 

"ORR should assess current policies and procedures to ensure that they do not present unnecessary barriers to children's release to appropriate sponsors and adjust, as appropriate," said the report. 

"Lastly, ORR should establish procedures to ensure that future policy changes prioritize child welfare considerations and do not inadvertently increase the length of time a child remains in ORR custody."

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