Jews Against ICE: We're Doing What the Gentiles of Europe Should Have Done | Opinion

The immigrant detention center in Elizabeth, NJ, doesn't look like much. Within its barbed wire perimeter, an American flag hangs limply from a wall-mounted pole. In the parking lot next door, a line of cherry-red semi trucks awaits drivers. Periodically, the metallic whine of air traffic from Newark International Airport breaks the silence.

Buildings like this are designed not to draw attention, because our government and the private prison companies that run them have a vested interest in us not knowing they exist.

But in these banal settings, often a block or two from our own doorsteps, people who have come to the United States to build a better life are torn apart from their families. They are warehoused in overcrowded cells, fed rotting food, made to drink from toilet bowls, and are denied soap, toothpaste, and medical attention. Within the past year, at least seven children have died in these conditions. Read this again: at least seven children have died.

This past Sunday, 36 Jewish activists were arrested for obstructing access to the Elizabeth facility. I was among them. I chose to fly across the country to get myself arrested because, as a Latina Jew, I believe strongly that both Movimiento Cosecha and Jews Against ICE have it exactly right when they use "Never Again"—a saying most often applied to Holocaust remembrance—as a call to action against this human rights calamity.

This invocation of the Holocaust has provoked a range of reactions from Jewish communities. Some agree that this situation rings the very same alarm bells we've been trained to listen for our whole lives. Others claim that we diminish the seriousness of the Holocaust by drawing comparisons between what is happening now and Hitler's "final solution."

I understand the reticence. Comparisons to Nazi ideology and activities are grave charges that should not be leveled frivolously, lest we diminish their power over time.

But there's nothing frivolous about this situation, or about our decision to draw these parallels.

The Obama administration was already taking action to criminalize and deport people whose only failing was that they didn't do the right paperwork. Then along came Donald Trump, an aspiring autocrat who rose to power on a platform of explicitly xenophobic vitriol. He has weaponized and expanded Obama's deportation machine, unleashing CBP and ICE to dehumanize and abuse innocent, vulnerable people—often with sadistic glee.

Children are being separated from their families at the border and imprisoned in conditions that are unfit for any living being, much less a human child.

ICE raids are increasing in frequency and severity, terrorizing immigrant communities and tearing apart American towns and neighborhoods.

People are being turned away at our borders in violation of international law and in defiance of that promise of opportunity America supposedly stands for. In their desperation to reach the U.S., women and children curl up to die in the scorching Arizona desert; fathers and daughters wash up dead on the banks of the Rio Grande.

None of these are the result of increased migration or of a lack of funding. They are political events, direct results of Trump's xenophobic rhetoric and ideology turbo-charging the anti-immigrant policies of the Obama administration.

And while Republicans double down on their white nationalist agenda, the Democratic Party continues to appease, committing billions to border actions in a supplemental appropriations bill that does not carry necessary protections for migrant children and families. Rather than taking forceful action to end this nightmare, they have chosen to legitimize Trump's actions.

So yes, the current situation all too closely resembles the period between 1933 and 1939, when the Nazis stripped our ancestors of their citizenship, relegated them to ghettos, and concentrated them in camps that were only later converted to industrial-scale extermination centers. (Their program of mass slaughter didn't begin in earnest until the war started in 1939.)

We aren't predicting how things will unfold from here. How could we? We're not prophets or fortune tellers.

We aren't saying that this situation is identical. How could it be? We're facing a different manifestation of xenophobia, on a different continent, in a different century, with a different system of government.

But the situation doesn't need to be identical, nor do we need to be able to predict the future, to be alarmed by what we see and to take the lessons of history seriously. It does not invalidate our trauma to acknowledge that the racism and xenophobia that led the Nazis to murder our ancestors by the millions are still at work in the world —and that they are the very same demons, the very same enemies, even if they don't exclusively impact us Jews.

On Sunday, we took the actions that we wish the gentiles of Europe would have taken in response to the Nazis' early crimes; the actions that might have stopped the ultimate crime from happening. We put our bodies on the line and shut down movement into and out of the Elizabeth, NJ detention center. We opened people's eyes about what is happening in Elizabeth and in thousands of other communities across the country. We said loud and clear that Trump supporters seeking to normalize concentration camps have no mandate to get offended on our behalf when the obvious comparison is made.

We hope that everyone who is now paying attention will stop nitpicking at differences and notice the parallels instead. We hope that everyone will act with a similar sense of urgency to end this nightmare before it goes any further. After all, Never Again is not a statement of complacency; it's not meant to express a smug belief that what happened in Europe some 70 years ago simply can't happen again. It's meant to ensure that we—you—won't let it happen again, to anyone.

So don't. We must take responsibility, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Tae Phoenix is a singer-songwriter who uses music as a community organizing tool. She organizes with the Poor People's Campaign and Indivisible, among others.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​