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The Mourner’s Kaddish was sung in Aramaic, and the names of six children who have died in government custody since September 2018 were recited as Jewish activists protested the treatment of migrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers. On Monday, Never Again Action held a march in Chicago, bringing together a diverse crowd of about 300 Jewish, Japanese American, and other groups of activists to the downtown ICE field office and the Dirksen Federal Building. 

The atmosphere on a summer day in Chicago was charged, as the protesters chanted, “The whole world is watching!” and “Which side are you on?” as they held posters drawing on the history of the Holocaust.

The nationwide Never Again Action movement has sprung up over the last few weeks in response to reports of overcrowded and unsafe conditions in border detention centers, in which children and adults are exposed to scabies, shingles, and chicken pox, and are cramped together in filth. In San Francisco, 500 Jewish people and allies marched to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, blocking the Federal Building and 7th Street for three hours. In Boston, a crowd of 1,000 protesters shut down traffic. In New Jersey, 36 Jews were arrested for blocking an ICE detention facility.

We are in front of ICE detention center in Boston and some of the detainees holding signs saying �thank you� and �i love you� from inside. This is heartbreaking! #NeverAgain#NeverAgainAction#NeverAgainMeans#CloseTheCamps#mapolipic.twitter.com/5WihqOO45c

July 2, 2019

So many grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are here blocking the road to the Elizabeth Detention Center. My friends who exist because their family escaped concentration camps know that this ICE facility is a concentration camp. Shut it down! #NeverAgain for anyone! pic.twitter.com/DDTDADw2SU

June 30, 2019

“Never Again is a slogan that grew up after the Holocaust, that it should never happen to Jews or to anyone else, and here it is happening,” Maralee Gordon, a 70-year-old retired rabbi, said.

Maralee Gordon, a 70-year-old retired rabbi, joined a group of Jewish activists in Chicago in a march against ICE detention centers.

Controversy surrounded Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she compared border detention facilities to concentration camps, which Republicans say demeans the history of the Holocaust. Gordon defended the comparison. “It fits every definition,” she said. “Children not given medical care, not given beds, not given adequate food, not given soap. Every definition of a concentration camp.”

E.M. Eisen-Markowitz has taught social studies and history in New York high schools and currently works as a restorative justice coordinator. Eisen-Markowitz said their grandparents escaped from the Holocaust through Buenos Aires, and as a history teacher, they see the importance of connecting history in “themes across peoples.”

E.M. Eisen-Markowitz taught social studies and history in New York, and had Jewish grandparents who escaped the Holocaust. They now march against ICE detention centers along with other Jewish protesters in Chicago. 

“It’s a totally fair comparison right now to make a comparison between the concentration camps in Eastern Europe and concentration camps at the border,” they said. “The regime of terror that is enforced through ICE across the country is totally an enactment of anti-immigrant xenophobia and racism that is paralleled to enforced anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe.”

Japanese American activists also came holding signs that made the connection to U.S. incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Ryan Yokota, a staff member at Japanese American Service Committee, said his organization started to get involved in the issue last year when news broke of family separations under the Trump administration. 

Japanese American activists join Jewish American activists to protest ICE detention centers in a Never Again Action movement.

”We as members of the Japanese American community, we see very clearly that there is a parallel and that the use of the term concentration camp to refer to prisons where these families are being held, we think that’s apt,” Yokota said. “We’re excited of the fact that Jewish Americans across the country are participating to make similar statements.”

Rebecca Oliver was at a Never Again Action protest in New Jersey when she was arrested along with 36 other Jews for blocking an ICE detention facility. The protesters were charged with obstruction of a public passage and released.

The activists demand the abolition of ICE and the closing of the detention centers—a demand that, Oliver says, targets Republicans and Democrats alike. In Chicago, activists criticized Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth for voting in favor of a $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package that came with fewer restrictions on the administration than were in the House version of the bill.

“It’s not just about saying you’re pro-immigrant. They can’t claim to be progressive while enabling Trump and the Republican Party and ICE while they terrorize immigrants and their families,” Oliver said. “There’s no ethical way to detain children.”

Actions have taken place in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., with more events planned for this week in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Concord, New Hampshire.

Alexandra Arriaga

Alex Arriaga is a reporter and writer based in Chicago. Her work focuses on how people engage and participate in democracy and how community reporting can empower that participation in different ways....