Booker answers questions about fundraiser with Essex County executive

Demonstrators outside an event called Booker a hypocrite for accepting contributions from the leader of a county which runs an immigrant detention center.

This article originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

On the Fourth of July, Sen. Cory Booker was in Nevada flipping pancakes at the annual Boulder City Rotary Pancake Breakfast and marching in the Independence Day parade. It’s a big annual event and several of the other campaigns have sent surrogates and volunteers. But Booker has the event — and the free local media — mostly to himself.

Away from the campaign trail last week, Booker was back in Jersey for a fundraiser co-hosted by Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. Demonstrators outside the event called Booker a hypocrite for accepting contributions from the leader of a county which runs an immigrant detention center that’s been cited by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security for maintaining unsanitary and unsafe conditions. We asked Booker if he regretted going to the fundraiser and accepting the contributions, if he’d give them back, or if he would ask Essex County to get out of the immigrant detention business.

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“I’m proud of my many years’ relationship with County Executive Joe D. We’ve partnered to do extraordinary things in Newark, as you know,” Booker said. “When you have friends, you bring issues to them, and I’ve brought this issue to him, not just this year. This is a facility I’ve visited in the past. I brought these issues forward, and I will continue to advocate for making sure that we are a nation that does right by immigrants. I just unveiled a plan that literally would phase out programs like this, detention almost as a whole. We can do this process in a way that affirms the dignity and the humanity of migrants.” Especially in light of that new policy initiative, which relies heavily on executive action, we pressed.

“Again, my plan is what it is. If I am president of the United States, we are going to end the use of private prisons. We are going to significantly eliminate these kinds of detention facilities and virtually end them,” Booker said.

For the record, Booker didn’t say he would give the money back and didn’t seem to regret attending the event. Immigration has become a theme this week. Booker hosts a roundtable on the issue Friday and was in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico Wednesday, where he accompanied a group of female asylum-seekers as they crossed the border, observing the crossing and the interactions with federal immigration authorities.

“It was very emotional to listen to their experiences, not only as being targeted in places like Juarez, but their experiences when they were in the United States in detention facilities that resonate with what we’ve heard from the inspector general about the awful conditions,” Booker said. It’s a situation he would remedy by executive order and one that would theoretically affect a facility closer to home.

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