Growing coalition of Jewish groups speaks out against Trump immigration policy
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Growing coalition of Jewish groups speaks out against Trump immigration policy

Activists spurred by reports of poor conditions at immigration centers liken US policies to Holocaust, past oppression of Jews

Protesters assembled by a majority Jewish group called Never Again Is Now walk through traffic as they make their way to Independence Mall in Philadelphia, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)
Protesters assembled by a majority Jewish group called Never Again Is Now walk through traffic as they make their way to Independence Mall in Philadelphia, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)

AP — From fiery protests outside detention centers in Texas, New Jersey and Rhode Island to a sit-in that blockaded an Amazon store in New York, a fledgling coalition of liberal Jewish groups is increasingly making itself heard as it fights the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Using the social media tag #JewsAgainstIce, the movement has likened US President Donald Trump’s actions on asylum and incarceration to what went on as the Holocaust was taking shape.

“It’s a cause that the Jews feel very deeply,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs with T’ruah, a human rights organization that represents 2,000 rabbis nationwide. “Our entire history is about being kicked out of one place and trying to find a safe place to live.”

While Jewish groups have long supported immigrant rights, many began working together more intensely in recent weeks after reports of squalid conditions at immigration centers. Activists say Trump’s comments this week about the “disloyalty” of Jews who vote Democratic will only galvanize them further.

Organizers say the loose coalition that also uses the hashtags #CloseTheCamps and #NeverAgainIsNow embraces tens of thousands of activists nationwide and works with some Latino and Muslim organizations as well. “Never again” has historically been a rallying cry among Jews when referring to the Holocaust.

“We see what’s happening to immigrants all over the country is really the same foundation that was laid before the Holocaust happened,” said Sophie Ellman-Golan with Never Again Action, a new group that has played a key role in the coalition. “We’re going to draw those parallels, and we’re going to speak out.”

Her group, which sprang up in late June and is working with longtime Jewish social justice organizations, likens US immigrant detention centers to concentration camps, after dire reports over the summer of cramped, filthy conditions, poor medical care and children being denied toothbrushes.

Never Again Action’s kickoff event was a June 30 protest outside a detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where 200 activists showed up and dozens were arrested.

Earlier this month, over 40 people were arrested, including a dozen rabbis, during a demonstration at an Amazon store in New York over the company’s role in creating facial-recognition technology used by law enforcement, including immigration agents. Activists marched from a synagogue and occupied the store for two hours.

Five activists are facing prison time after protesters last month blocked a Houston road leading to a detention center. More than 30 protesters were arrested during a demonstration that interrupted a Fourth of July parade in Philadelphia.

Protesters are arrested by Philadelphia police after interrupting The Salute to America Independence Day Parade held near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, July 4, 2019 (Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, File)

Things took a dark turn at a demonstration last week outside a detention center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, when a guard apparently drove his truck through the crowd, injuring several people.

“This is the moment when folks need to be stepping up and doing whatever it takes to stop the machine that is really tearing families apart and hurting people so deeply,” said Tali Ginsburg, a Never Again Action organizer in Chicago.

Jewish organizations, like other religious groups, have a long history in the immigrant rights movement.

For many Jews, it’s personal.

“Many of us have had a story of immigrating when we weren’t welcome,” said Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action in Minnesota. “Restrictive immigration policies kept us out, too.”

Her group worked with Never Again Action in June to block traffic outside a federal building in St. Paul where immigration court is held. Muslim organizations were invited in a gesture of solidarity.

Activists also used a day of Jewish mourning, Tisha B’Av, earlier this month to spotlight the plight of immigrants. Services usually held at synagogues were moved outdoors to immigrant detention and processing centers in places like Los Angeles and suburban Chicago. Immigrants shared their stories.

Jews, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, have long accused Trump of sowing fear in immigrant circles with his policies and rhetoric. His comments about disloyal Jewish voters triggered fresh concerns that he is promoting a centuries-old stereotype that Jews are divided in their loyalties, though Trump has denied any anti-Semitism.

“He’s using a very anti-Semitic trope and pitting Jews against everyone else. It’s not an accident when Jews are mobilizing in even greater numbers,” said Audrey Sasson of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in New York. “We’re not going to be scared away out of our solidarity.”

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