By Christopher Robbins
on November 23, 2013 at 5:59 PM

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP - A Congressman’s office became a way station Saturday afternoon.

Around 10 marchers on a 130-mile, nine-day pilgrimage through New Jersey to call for immigration reform met allies at the Freehold Township offices of Congressman Chris Smith for a short protest.

Rita Dentino, president of the Casa Freehold job center, said immigration reform is essential for Monmouth County.

“Every day in Casa Freehold we see families broken, and this breaks my heart,” Dentino said. “Families are meant to be together.”

The pilgrimage, which started in Camden, was organized by the national faith-based community group PICO.

Rev. Jud Weiksnar, a Roman Catholic priest, was among the pilgrims.

“The Camden Diocese, in fact all the U.S. Bishops have spoken out strongly for immigration reform, it is one of the primary things we are working for,” Weiksnar said. “Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden came to visit one of our friars who is fasting in a tent in front of the capitol for immigration reform. They are calling on all of us to fast Dec. 3 for immigration reform.”

Freehold area immigration activists and labor leaders welcomed the marchers Saturday with warm words and speeches.

The pilgrimage’s trek back and forth across the state is meant to be symbolic of marchers’ desire for a pathway to citizenship in immigration reform. The pilgrims were all community and faith leaders with PICO New Jersey.

“This is an example to say that we cannot wait anymore,” Carlos Rojas, a PICO organizer, said. “1100 people are being removed from this country every day, and these folks are not criminals, they are community members, they have families. They have started lives here, they have children, they have jobs here and they pay taxes.”

Along the way, marchers have visited Rep. Robert Andrews (D-1st) and Rep. John Runyan (R-3rd), with a visit to Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s office planned for next week.

Smith (R-4th) is a frequent target of immigration rights groups.

“I want to show Rep. Smith that not only adults are being affected by the delay in immigration reform,” said 13-year-old Yeime Hernandez, of Freehold. “I think he’s scared that maybe other Republicans are going to do something to him. He could speak up, but he’s scared.”

Hernandez alluded to Smith’s record of fighting for human rights globally, suggesting that immigration reform is also a human rights issue.

“He should support us because in other countries he has helped people,” Hernandez said. “It’s not just Smith, it is President Obama, too. He said he was going to help us, but six years later we are still waiting. That makes me angry.”

After an immigration reform march last month, Dentino and other activists asked Smith to clarify his stance on immigration.

“We asked for an answer by Nov. 15,” Dentino said. “On Nov. 15 I received a phone call saying that reform is dead, nothing will happen this year. That isn’t what we wanted, we want to know how Congressman Smith feels – does he want our families to stay together?”

Weiksnar said Smith’s Roman Catholic background, which has informed his stances on war and abortion, should also inform is position on immigration.

“Congressman Smtih has spoken in Washington many times strongly in conjunction with Catholic values on different issues,” Weiksnar said. “We’re calling on him now to also speak on immigration with that same Catholic voice that calls for justice in immigration. As Jesus welcomed the stranger and told us to welcome the stranger, that is what we’re calling on Congressman Smith to do as well.”

Kevin Brown, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said his group would challenge legislators blocking immigration reform.

“It’s wrong – they are crushing people’s dreams and taking families away,” Brown said. “We won’t forget, in Nov. 2014 they will either be on the right side of history or the wrong side of history. We are telling them ‘we will find you, and we will remove you.’”

32BJ SEIU is the largest property services union in the country.

Marchers and protesters taped images of broken hearts nearby the entrance to Smith’s office. The hearts were inscribed with the names of family and friends deported or detained due to American immigration laws.

“The broken hearts are to signify families separated by immigration laws,” Rojas said. “We want to send a message to Congressman Smith so he will hopefully become a primary sponsor of immigration reform.”

Freehold area protesters wrote names like Nicolas, Silvia, Pedro, Gabriel Arteaga, Lazaro, Jose Martinez, Raverto Rojas and Francisco Rodan.

On Sunday, the marchers will attend Mass at St. Mark’s Parish in Sea Girt, before continuing on toward Lakewood for an appearance at Georgian Court University.