U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) houses its regional offices in a downtown Seattle building owned by billionaire developer Martin Selig. In front of that building last Thursday, during a Jewish-led protest for migrant justice, I confronted Selig about why he rents to ICE. I asked him how could he—as a Jew and as an immigrant— choose to profit from ICE terrorizing immigrants.
Selig pinched me on the cheek, put his arm on my shoulder, and told me that it wasn’t up to him, that the government controls who rents from his privately owned building, and that there was nothing he can do about it.
As a Jewish person with family members who were killed in the Nazi Holocaust, I am appalled that Selig, who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 with his parents, would support ICE’s ongoing violence and brutality against immigrants in this country.
Selig told The Seattle Times that his family had to hide in warehouse basements in Frankfurt until they could escape through Poland, the Soviet Union and finally Japan where they boarded a steam ship for the United States: "[My parents] brought nothing with them...Their luggage was shipped out through Holland, but it was confiscated. [My father] came to America with only a few gold coins in the hollowed-out heels of his shoes."
What would have happened if immigration police had stopped his family from entering the U.S.? Where would he be today if the government had separated him from his family, put them in detention camps, and eventually shipped them back to Germany?
That’s what ICE is doing to families today. When I tuned into Democracy Now’s coverage of the Mississippi raids last week, I heard a young girl crying because ICE agents took her parents from her in one of the largest raids in the last decade. ICE arrested 680 mostly Latinx people that day, and they detain, cage, and deport tens of thousands of people seeking refuge in the US every year.
The detention center conditions include standing-room-only cells where people are deprived of adequate food, water, or basic sanitation. Thousands of children have said they were sexually abused in ICE detention centers, and at least 24 immigrants, including seven children, have died in US custody under the Trump administration. Countless other immigrants have died after being deported back to their countries of origin.
The images of migrants inside wire cage fences are hauntingly familiar to many of us Jews whose own history has taught us to say “never again.”
We came together last week—Jews, immigrants, and allies—as part of the wave of Never Again actions spreading across the country. As Jews, we are motivated to speak out because we know what happens when a group of people is demonized and dehumanized. Each generation of Jews has passed down the phrase “never again” because we have a responsibility never again to allow anyone to experience the persecution that our ancestors experienced in the Nazi Holocaust.
Sadly, “never again” is happening right now. As Selig walked away from me, I told him he was breaking my heart. It breaks my heart that a Jew whose family was targeted by the Nazis would seemingly forget the lessons of our shared history, the lessons of what happens when a state targets and dehumanizes a vulnerable group of people.
As he disappeared into his building, I heard our crowd singing Ozi v'Zmrat Yah, which translates as, “My strength (balanced) with the song of G-d will be my salvation.”
As Jews, our salvation comes from honoring our own histories of strength and resilience by showing up in solidarity with immigrants being targeted by ICE, and by saying that we must end the detention and deportation of migrants, close the camps at the border, defund ICE and Customs and Border Protection, and provide permanent protection for all undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
Wendy Elisheva Somerson is one of the founders of the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.