The Princeton Town Council has officially condemned conditions in U.S. detention centers for undocumented immigrants while calling for a universal legal services program that would provide legal representation to such detainees.
In a meeting on Jan. 13, the Princeton Town Council unanimously passed a resolution “calling upon the White House, the U.S. Congress, and the State of New Jersey to reunify migrant families, release them from detention, and afford them due process in immigration proceedings.”
The resolution begins by outlining the United States’ historical acceptance of migrants and points to Princeton’s “long and proud history of welcoming immigrants of all backgrounds into our community.” It goes on to condemn what it refers to as the “inhuman treatment of migrants at our borders.”
The resolution was proposed by former Princeton Civil Rights Commission member Afsheen Shamsi. Princeton is the third town in New Jersey to endorse its text, following Montgomery Township and Bound Brook. Jersey City has the resolution on its council agenda, which if approved, will make it the second New Jersey city to call to end migration detention, following Hoboken.
The resolution itself calls for an end to immigration detention and to unify families that have been separated. Shamsi also emphasized the need for due process, given that many detainees are unable to afford an attorney.
The resolution proposes a universal legal services program to combat this issue.
The resolution also calls on Princeton’s Congressional Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman and New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez “to call for an end to immigration detention in the United States, the immediate reunification of migrant families, and the release of migrant children and parents from detention.” It asks Congresswoman Coleman “to take immediate action to cut funding to the border militarization and detention in the congressional appropriations process.”
The resolution also calls for the State of New Jersey to “protect the rights and safety of all detained migrants” and “fully fund a universal legal services program” to guarantee due process.
At the conclusion of the resolution, the Council directs the municipal clerk to send a copy to various Mercer County freeholders, New Jersey assemblypeople, state senators, Princeton’s representatives in Congress, and President Donald Trump.
Town Council member Leticia Fraga told centraljersey.com, “I feel this resolution truly reflects our values [and] who we are as a community when it comes to protecting our neighbors.”
Councillor Fraga did not respond to a request for comment.
Shamsi shared that the driving force behind the resolution was her personal experience as a migrant refugee. As a child, she lived in Kuwait, but after Saddam Hussein attacked her hometown, her family fled.
“That two-week drive to Pakistan was the scariest journey of our lives,” she wrote in a guest column for NJ.com.
She continued, “it is desperation and fear that compels families to take on the unknown dangers of the road,” and thus “they should be treated with dignity and humanity at our borders.”
Shamsi likened the state in American detention centers to concentration camps in Nazi Germany, calling them both “breeding grounds for disease.”
Shamsi concluded her op-ed with a call to all Americans.
“I don’t believe for a minute that we as United States citizens are powerless to do anything about this — this is an issue for every mother, father, child, grandfather, grandmother.” She urged all readers to “call on all of our elected officials ... to represent our voices.”
On a call with The Daily Princetonian, Shamsi elaborated that stories of immigration are important because “they humanize the experiences of those who don’t have a voice in our community.”
She said, “it is important to understand why people are migrating from circumstances of persecution in their country of origin ... in a time where there is so much fear around immigration.”
Shamsi is hoping to expand her advocacy, though she heard many “opine that it is not the town’s place to comment on federal matters.”
Shamsi, however, is optimistic, saying that “she has been pleasantly surprised by the impact the resolution is [having].” She is in conversation with the executive director of an unnamed national non-profit, who is “on board” with the resolution.
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert did not respond to a request for comment.
The council meeting took place at Witherspoon Hall at 400 Witherspoon Street.