Haunted by Disease-Ridden WWII Death Camps, Jewish Activists Push to Free ICE Detainees as COVID-19 Strikes First Facilities

Anne Frank didn’t die in a gas chamber; she got sick in a crowded and unsanitary ICE-like concentration camp

Responding to the imminent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic killing hundreds or even thousands of vulnerable ICE detainees, the Jewish-led immigrant rights organization, Never Again Action, is escalating its months-long direct action efforts (e.g. shutting down ICE’s DC headquarters for half a day in July) to get detainees released from cruel and now life-threatening ICE concentration camps across the United States (the former head of ICE has said detainees “must” be released). Local Never Again Action chapters across the country will be conducting actions in coalition with other immigration justice partners to demand that state governors use their emergency powers to take immediate life-saving action that thousands of doctors have said are necessary to prevent certain and unnecessary deaths. Actions will continue throughout the week, starting in Boston on Thursday, New Jersey on Friday and other cities later in the week across the US.

“Governors can save hundreds of lives right now by releasing these detainees,” said Never Again Action’s Boston spokesperson, Elizabeth Weinbloom. “An outbreak at one of these facilities will make them as deadly as Dachau. Murderous intent is not required for a facility to become a death camp; inaction will have the same effect.”

There were six successful actions last weekend employing a variety of tactics:

  • Two “caravans to save lives” were organized at Newark, New Jersey correctional centers, in partnership with ICE Free New Jersey. Over 100 cars participated on Sunday March 22nd at Hudson County Correctional Center; a video from this action has gone viral with almost 200K views (the earlier caravan was at the Essex County Correctional Center on Friday, March 20th). Both actions were in solidarity with detainees inside who have been on hunger strikes for their freedom. As of Sunday, March 22nd, Hudson had two confirmed COVID-19 cases and was on lockdown.

  • In New York City and Boston, activists projected images of Anne Frank onto their immigration court houses, drawing an explicit parallel between the intentionally unsanitary conditions in Holocaust concentration camps and the current conditions in ICE camps. At least 38 incarcerated people and employees at New York City’s Rikers Island Correctional Facility have now tested positive for coronavirus. Meanwhile, Bristol County Correctional Center medical personnel stated last week that “the infection of the whole ICE facility population is inevitable and will occur within the next thirty days.” The JFK Federal Building in Boston, which houses Massachusetts’ U.S. Immigration Court, is across the street from the New England Holocaust Memorial, which memorializes those the Nazis murdered by disease as well as by gas and bullets.

  • Protesters in the Bay Area and Minneapolis held car rallies outside their governors’ mansions. As many as 25 cars were outside California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s residence, and a comparable number confronted Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz at his home.

All the actions were carefully scripted to comply with CDC COVID-19 guidelines; Never Again Action is one of the only activist groups in the country currently carrying out direct actions in the new “shelter in place” era.

Visuals from our actions are available to media: 

“The spread of COVID-19 will turn detention centers into de-facto death camps,” says Alyssa Rubin, Never Again Action’s national campaign director. “ICE is not interested in the health and safety of their detainees. We demand that governors use their emergency powers to order the release of all immigrant detainees in their state.”

Actions will continue throughout the week, starting in Boston on Thursday, New Jersey on Friday and other cities later in the week across the US.

About Never Again Action

Never Again Action is a mass mobilization of Jews, immigrants, and allies who are organizing to shut down ICE. We come together as a group of differently affiliated Jewish organizers because we understand it to be our community’s obligation to stand up when we see history repeat itself and to declare that Never Again means Never Again for anybody. We need to empty the detention centers before COVID turns them into death camps.