Twenty-two Jewish leaders from across the Milwaukee area gathered outside the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office to block the building’s garage doors on August 1.
The act of civil disobedience began shortly after 9:00 am, in an effort to stop ICE agents from leaving to carry out raids and detentions. Hundreds of community members joined latest in a wave of Jewish-led #NeverAgain actions. The movement has called for the closure of the Trump Administration’s concentration camps at the border, and permanent protection for undocumented immigrants and people seeking asylum.
“So many people from the Jewish community came out to protest ICE and the inhumane treatment of migrants at the border,” said Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, one of the organizers of the action. “I have never seen such a unique and passionate Jewish protest in the 16 years I have lived in Wisconsin. All our lives we had been taught, ‘You shall not stand idly by.’ Today we demanded an end to the injustices occurring in our country and stood in solidarity with immigrant communities everywhere.”
Shortly after the Milwaukee blockade began, ICE agents posted a sign on the building’s door saying the building would be closed “until further notice.” The group blocked the garage doors until after 4:00 pm, which is the regular closing time for the ICE facility. There were no arrests.
“I’ve had the sobering experience of going to McAllen, Texas, on a couple of occasions,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who addressed protesters. “I’ve seen first-hand the egregious situations that human beings are placed in. I just don’t have the luxury of saying nothing or doing nothing. We have got to rise up, because evil can only continue if good people do nothing. So, when I learned this march was going to occur at 8 a.m., there was no other place that I was going to be.”
The Milwaukee action follows a month of Jewish-led #NeverAgain actions at detention centers and ICE buildings across the country, including in New Jersey, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington DC. On July 30, Jewish community members in Minneapolis blocked entrances to a federal building. The Milwaukee action was the first time that a group had completely shut down an ICE building for an entire day.
“It is historic to shut down an ICE facility for an entire today,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera. “The Never Again actions are a source of inspiration and strength for the Latinx community. There is a broad and diverse movement inspired by many different communities’ experience of persecution and struggle. The Never Again actions are a warning from the Jewish perspective of what could happen if we don’t escalate our resistance to the growth of modern-day fascism. Civil disobedience is a necessary tactic to block efforts to persecute and separate families.”
The mood during the blockade was sometimes somber, as protesters chanted and sang. Their goal was to show support for people being detained by ICE because they did not have the correct documentation. For some members of the Jewish community, it has been inflammatory to compare what is happening at the southern border to Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. But others see it differently and believe it is time people wake up to he dire situation that continues to unfold.
“Central to Jewish life is the concept of Tikkun olam, the responsibility to heal the world and pursue social justice. Jews are taught from an early age that to remain silent in the face of injustice is morally unacceptable,” said the Never Again Is Now Wisconsin group in a statement. “We know from bitter experience where the separation of families, the rounding up of people, and the creation of detention/concentration camps leads. We refuse to wait and see what happens next. We are putting our bodies on the line and risking arrest in memory of our loved ones whose families were broken up, whose lives were stolen, and because when we say never again, we mean never again for anyone.We take action now to stop the breaking up of families and the deportation of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers and to demand that ICE be shut down.”
Joe Brusky and Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA)