Clergy Are Immigrants’ Biggest Advocates

Father Karl visits Immigration Prisons In New Jersey

Three years ago, when Father Karl Esker became the associate pastor of St. James Church, a close-knit Brazilian parish in the heart of Newark’s Ironbound section, he knew a big part of his job would involve helping new immigrants. But he didn’t expect to become an activist protesting America’s growing system of immigration detention.

Then he started to hear the stories. What really got to him were the cases of American-born children of undocumented immigrants who were thrust into foster care because the parents were placed in detention or deported.

“I didn’t know anything about immigration,’’ Esker said during a recent interview in his spartan office that he hopes to one day turn into an immigration resource center. “So I went to a seminar at Rutgers. Later I went to another one at Seton Hall. Oh my God! What the judges and everyone were saying about the immigration system blew my mind. I said, ‘This can’t be real – this happening in the United States?’’’

The experience has turned Esker into a strong critic of America’s system of immigration incarceration — a growing patchwork of for-profit prisons, county jails and federal detention centers that serve as portals for deporting immigrants, most of them here illegally but some of them with green cards.

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Montclair State | New Jersey

Ryan Miller

Currently finishing undergraduate degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University. Worked freelance as producer, camera & editor.