Over the past few months, Jewish young people have led protests against ICE in dozens of cities across the country. These protests, organized by Never Again Action, oppose the criminalization and brutal treatment of immigrants, and have resulted in hundreds of arrests.
The systemic criminalization of immigrants is nothing new – Obama deported almost 3 million – but the Trump administration has upped the ante. By intentionally aggravating racist and xenophobic sentiments, the right uses immigrants as a scapegoat for real issues facing this country, as a way to rile up their base for the 2020 election. If Trump is able to keep different sections of the working class fighting each other, he can avoid facing a mass movement of people united against him.
In the camps, detainees’ basic needs for food, water, bathroom access, and safety are being denied. They are also subject to rampant physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped bring knowledge of this crisis to the public through social media. Her reference to the detention centers as “concentration camps” sparked a debate in mainstream media, in which some argued that this terminology is offensive to Jewish people.
As a Jewish woman, I believe asserting that our community has some kind of monopoly on the concept of concentration camps, or the experience of genocide, is a perverse exploitation of our intergenerational trauma.
If the national debate is over which words can be used, and by whom, it ceases to be about the fact that people are being denied basic human rights and dying right now in US custody. This kind of squabbling is exactly what billionaires benefitting from the status quo want us to be doing.
Through protests and marches in nearly two dozen cities, young Jews are shifting national focus away from semantics and back to the injustices being committed by our government.
I helped organize the action in Philadelphia on July 4th where nearly 400 marched and 33 were arrested. In attendance were rabbis, families with young children, college students, people from diverse immigrant communities, and all kinds of others.
Never Again Action, the network of activists that sprang up to organize this movement, gets its name from a refrain young Jews have heard all our lives in reference to the Holocaust: “never again”. Through this channel, young Jews are rising up to say that we will not allow our community’s history of suffering to be used to justify or distract from the reality of what is happening to undocumented immigrants in this country. When we say “never again” we mean never again for anyone. We refuse to wait for the crisis to get worse before we intervene. We are fighting for a world where this kind of oppression is unimaginable.
Never Again Action has been coordinating closely with Movimiento Cosecha, an organization led by young people from immigrant communities fighting for “permanent protection, dignity, and respect for all immigrants”. These organizations have been willing to target politicians like Joe Biden, shedding light on the Democratic Party’s role in this system.
In late June congress voted to pass an appropriations bill giving additional funding to ICE. A handful of representatives, including AOC, voiced clear opposition and were promptly publicly shamed by Nancy Pelosi and other powerful establishment figures, for failing to fall in line.
Examining the Democrats' response to this crisis, it has never been more clear to me that the Democratic Party is part of the problem and not part of the solution. They fight harder against progressives within their own ranks than against Trump and his right wing agenda, proving once again that their role is to protect the status quo and the interests of the 1%.
Democratic party politicians only do the right thing when they are pushed to by movements from below. For instance, it was only after this movement took off that Pennsylvania’s governor Tom Wolf ordered ICE to “immediately halt any enforcement activities [that] result in temporary or permanent separation of children [from their parents].” His action also followed years of community activists demanding changes to state immigration policy.
To build a movement strong enough to win real and lasting change we cannot rely on the Democratic party. Instead, we need to engage with all working-class communities and build a broad fightback against the right wing agenda dominating our country.
- Local police departments immediately stop all collaboration and information sharing with ICE
- State governments shut down ICE detention centers operating within their borders
- The total abolishment of ICE and full legal status for all immigrants