New Jersey man describes time inside ICE detention center

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HIGHLAND PARK -

As the illegal immigration debate gets heated in Congress, a Highland Park man tells News 12 New Jersey what it is like inside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.

Harry Pangemanan spent nearly three months inside an ICE detention center in Elizabeth after he was denied asylum. Pangemanan says that he constantly feared that he would be sent away from his wife and children.

“Any day, any minute, you can be taken out and deported once inside,” he says.

He says that while in the center in 2009, he lived in a room with 50 other men, sleeping on cots side by side. He said there were concrete walls topped with fencing and barbed wire. And there was no privacy.

VIDEO: Gov. Murphy blocks NJ resources' use in border policy

“Everybody can see what you’re doing when showering or anything,” he says.

The Indonesian immigrant says that he was only allowed outside for 45 minutes, once a week and that he was only able to speak to this children on a phone while looking through glass.

He says that the Trump administration’s current practice of separating children from their parents as soon as the families illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border is heartbreaking.

“I don't see any reason why you have to put the children in the cage,” he says.

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It is part of the administration’s zero tolerance policy on prosecuting those who cross the border without permission. It is estimated that about 2,300 children have been placed into detention centers.

President Donald Trump says that the practice is necessary until Congress can come up with a new immigration law.

"Child smugglers exploit the loopholes, and they gain illegal entry into the United States, putting countless children in danger on the perilous trek to the United States,” Trump said.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also defended the policy.

"Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it.  Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty of the United States,” she says.

But the practice has angered many members of the general public, as well as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, who call the practice heartless.

An audio recording was recently leaked that seems to depict several children crying out for their parents.

"We are at a moral crossroads.  We are at a point where our character is being revealed,” says Sen. Cory Booker.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is also taking a stand. He signed an executive order Monday afternoon preventing state funds from being used in the separation of families.

“That these detainment practices are being conducted in Elizabeth…within mere miles of the Statue of Liberty, is beyond abhorrent,” he said.

Congress is expected to vote Thursday on two pieces of legislation concerning the immigration crisis.

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