Last Wednesday, July 3, fellow JCJ intern Lindsay Morgenstein and I drove to the Theo Lacy Immigration Detention Center in Orange, California, a facility which serves as a maximum-security jail for immigrant detainees. While I did not go inside, it was clear from what I witnessed outside and what I’ve read recently, that the treatment of detainees in these centers is abusive and cruel. I knew that I could not stand idly by as anyone is oppressed or mistreated.
I, along with Lindsay and other Jews, walked toward the detention center to chant “Never Again!” and “Close the Camps!” There was a moment of unification and a rapport between all those who were there to make their voices heard. We stood outside while protest organizers led us in prayer and motivational words of action. We stood together and said the mourner’s kaddish for the migrants who have died in so many of the detention camps in our country. We listened to victims of this humanitarian crisis tell stories of the terrible conditions which made so many of them ill and weak. Some protestors stood hand-in-hand right outside the doors of Theo Lacy, putting themselves on the line for this issue. As we stood there fighting for the rights of those detained by ICE, I felt empowered and a sense of community with all of the Jewish groups in attendance. The expression “Never Again” sounded more like peace-making words rather than a battle cry.
While listening to people discuss why they attended the protest, families of the detained began to show up for visits with loved ones. One family in particular finally had enough money to get their loved one out of the detention center. At first, the family could not get in because protestors were blocking the doors. However, those protestors rightfully moved away from the entrance and onto the street. Although the activists had moved, police maintained they would not allow visitors or anyone cleared until the rally came to an end. At that moment, our group was at a moral crossroads. As protestors, we were peacefully fighting for what we strongly support — closing these objectionable encampments and reuniting families.
I questioned if we did the right thing to end the protest so these families could reunite, even if for a brief moment. Should we have kept protesting with the bigger picture in mind, thereby complicating things for those families who just want to see each other? I believe there is no one right answer. Both the smaller picture and bigger picture have merit. Personally, I could not watch families stand there waiting to see their loved ones, so I left. This does not mean I believe those who stayed were wrong. I attended the rally. I made my voice heard. And I will continue to do so. Showing up at detention centers is one of the more important things I can do as an informed citizen at this moment.
A few hours later, the protest was called off. There have been many similar acts of resistance in the past few weeks all around the country, evidence of a movement that will only continue to grow. It is a fight bigger than one singular protest in California, but every bit of activism and action means more progress than the day before. The bottom line, regardless of partisan politics, is that the unjust treatment towards undocumented immigrants in these camps is unacceptable.
This week, the Trump Administration announced another plan to begin deportation raids this weekend. The White House had similar actions planned several weekends ago, but they were called off at the last minute. This shouldn’t offer us more comfort about what is planned for this weekend, however. Now is the time to act to support the undocumented immigrant community before they too are sent to one of these inhumane detention centers or even sent back to their home countries where their lives are at even greater risk.
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Ellie Ross is a summer legislative intern with the Jewish Center for Justice. She is a sophomore attending American University.