We Need to Pay Attention to Organizations Shutting Down ICE

Whether it’s a detention center or concentration camp, the goal is clear: disruption

Never Again Action protestors are arrested by Philadelphia Police on July 4, 2019. Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images

LLast week, a judge in Houston dismissed misdemeanor charges (contingent on community service) against five Jewish protesters with Never Again Action for blocking Emancipation Avenue near Casa Sunzal, a year-old Southwest Key nonprofit detention center that houses unaccompanied teenagers. The protesters, who had organized an Aug. 12 action in honor of Tisha B’Av, the Jewish holiday of mourning, could have received up to six months in jail.

Their dismissals come on the heels of a newly released report that found over 50,000 immigrants are currently in custody — 10% in detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 20% in state and county jails, and the rest in private-run detention centers. Under President DonaldTrump, ICE, as well as Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), have only grown in power and magnified their terrorist tactics. What’s more, widespread abuse in ICE facilities, according to a report by RAICES, continues.

Protesters physically block entrances and exits to buildings in order to temporarily shut them down.

While debates about whether detention centers should be called concentration camps ignite across social media, Never Again Action protesters focus on closing them. Though Never Again has spearheaded almost 40 events since June, mainstream news media outlets have largely ignored its achievements.

TThe aim of Never Again Action is straightforward — to disrupt the operation of ICE or corporations that have contracts with ICE. Protesters physically block entrances and exits to buildings in order to temporarily shut them down. It’s an effective tactic with historical roots in the civil rights movement and, more recently, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests by indigenous activists at Standing Rock and the Thirty Meter Telescope protests by native Hawaiians at Mauna Kea.

The organization takes its name from Never Again, the rallying cry that originated in the aftermath of the Holocaust, where some six million Jews perished at the hands of the Third Reich. Though Jewish protesters make up much of the organization, Never Again Action partners with dozens of established immigration groups (including Movimiento Cosecha, Unidad Latina en Acción NJ, and Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast) to amplify the voices of the communities most at risk under the Trump administration.

“Never Again Action has been given a giant platform to speak on the immigration crisis, and I hope that we use this platform understanding that as a group of predominately white Ashkenazi Jews, we will never fully understand the daily fear and violence the undocumented community experiences in this country today,” says Serena Adlerstein, co-founder of Never Again Action and a former organizer with Movimiento Cosecha. “This moment is very familiar to our own history, but sharing the story of the Holocaust again and again will not humanize the immigrant community. The directly affected community knows better than us how to end this crisis.” Members of immigrant communities know, for example, the neighborhoods that ICE agents routinely patrol and the courts where agents keep an eye out for undocumented immigrants.

This summer, over a thousand protesters from Never Again and Movimiento Cosecha blocked ICE headquarters entrances in Washington, D.C.

NNever Again Action’s track record for only three months of operation is nothing short of astounding. On June 30, only a few weeks after Adlerstein posted a call to action on Facebook, some 200 people showed up to obstruct Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey. (Thirty-six were eventually arrested.) This summer, over a thousand protesters from Never Again and Movimiento Cosecha blocked ICE headquarters entrances in Washington, D.C. When word got out about the planned action at Seattle ICE offices, they remained closed for the day. A few weeks ago, Never Again marched through the streets of Boston to shut down Amazon offices in Cambridge.

At an action at Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island, Capt. Thomas Woodworth, a correctional officer, plowed his pickup into several protesters. (Thankfully, none were seriously injured.) Not even this horrific act of violence has deterred Never Again in their mission.

“Whether it’s blocking traffic or blocking egress from an ICE facility, we are saying that this is urgent enough,” says singer-songwriter Tae Phoenix, a queer disabled Latina member of Never Again Action. Phoenix was arrested at the first action in Elizabeth and also participated in the Seattle protest in August. “We are willing to not just put our bodies on the line, but we are committed to obstructing the progress of this system.”

The incessant abuse by the Trump administration is beginning to wear on many communities and their allies. But Never Again Action has demonstrated the power of specific, laser-focused acts of resistance. It has found one compelling route to help ameliorate this era of catastrophe.

“Jews, especially Jews of color, but really all Jews, know in our bones the danger and the reality of what fascist othering can do,” says Phoenix. “And the scapegoated ‘other’ is dark-skinned immigrants from poor countries who are fleeing the violence and persecution that we created. We have seen exactly how this goes.”

Journalist, critic & columnist at ZORA. Essay collection SOUTHBOUND (UGA Press) & debut novel THE PARTED EARTH (Hub City Press), spring ’21.

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