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‘Never again’ in Howard County

On Sunday, more than 300 Jews and our allies spent Tisha b’Av — the saddest day on the Jewish calendar — at the Howard County Detention Center (HCDC) in Jessup. Why? Because HCDC has earned $14 million since 2013 for detaining more than 5,100 immigrants on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of its Intergovernmental Service Agreement with the agency.

Our Jewish community rallied to pray and witness outside of the detention center because of the violence and devastation caused by ICE and merciless immigration policies. Tisha b’Av marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the expulsion of Jews from England and Spain, pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe and a slew of other tragedies. On Tisha b’Av Jews fast, sit low to the ground and chant from the book of Eicha, Lamentations. We are called on the saddest day of the year to mobilize. Despite our historical pain, the realities around us beckon action. Around the country, Jews gathered at 57 protests on Tisha b’Av in mass mobilization to remind the world that when we say “never again,” we mean it.

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Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting and blocking the entrance of the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland are demonstrating publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S or on the immigrant residence already in America.
Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting and blocking the entrance of the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland are demonstrating publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S or on the immigrant residence already in America. (Xavier Plater/Baltimore Sun)

But “never again” has been happening since long before 2019, long before Donald Trump’s election in 2016. We know that the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations laid the foundation for Mr. Trump’s wall-building and mass deportation machine. We know that during his two terms as president, President Barack Obama deported more people and separated more families than Mr. Trump has so far. But it is Mr. Trump’s frank alliances with white supremacists that incite more fear, violence and terror than before.

“Never again” has been happening since long before we turned our attention to violence at our U.S./Mexico border. The U.S. incarcerates more children than any other country in the world. Immigrant families have been detained at the Berks County Detention Center in Pennsylvania since 1998.

And “never again” is happening not just in the United States, but in Israel/Palestine, where each year the Israeli military detains and prosecutes around 700 Palestinian children; and in Hungary, where more than 1,200 children were detained in 2017 alone — a 500% increase from the previous year — as a result of the Asylum Act’s mandatory detention policy for asylum-seekers.

“Never again” is now. It is at our borders, in our neighborhoods, in our sacred places.

Tisha b’Av calls on us to see the interconnectedness of our suffering and to act in its wake. It compresses time, dating every tragedy that has befallen our people to the same day on the calendar. It reminds us that each suffering is linked, compounds the next and informs how we mourn in the face of the totality of grief.

We must see the connections between the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, family detention and separation at the US/Mexico border, mass ICE raids in Mississippi, child detention in Israel/Palestine. Tisha b’Av asks us each year to open our hearts and our eyes to the pervasive ways that baseless hatred, sinat chinam, causes human beings to destroy worlds. And when making those connections is too painful, or we blanch, we must ask one another, “why?” How do we decide which atrocities garner our attention?

Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting at the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland are demonstrating publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S or on the immigrant residence already in America.
Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting at the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland are demonstrating publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S or on the immigrant residence already in America. (Xavier Plater/Baltimore Sun)

This Tisha b’Av as we sat on the hot pavement singing songs and prayers for freedom, what I prayed for was an end to all borders. For all cages to be open. For the voice of the migrant and the refugee and the occupied to be heard, shelter and sanctuary offered freely to all.

And change is on the horizon: just hours after our action, the office of Howard County Executive Calvin Ball made a statement committing to looking into our demands, saying “[w]e have complete confidence that, through open dialogue, the County government will properly review and evaluate our contract, in order to determine whether it remains appropriate in its current form.”

Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting at the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland are demonstrating publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S or on the immigrant residence already in America.
Baltimore Jews against ICE along with various community groups are protesting at the Howard County Detention Center. Jews and allies throughout Maryland are demonstrating publicly that they will not turn their backs on refugees arriving in the U.S or on the immigrant residence already in America. (Xavier Plater/Baltimore Sun)

Change is on the horizon in Anne Arundel County, where County Executive Steuart Pittman canceled its 287g Program, which trains police in the field to collaborate with ICE.

Change is on the horizon in the numerous cities across the U.S. who have declared themselves sanctuary cities; change is on the horizon in the entirety of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who declared themselves a sanctuary church body.

Change is on the horizon; the path to liberation for all is clear, and it requires us to say, “never again” at every turn.

Ariana Katz (Twitter: @rabbiariana) is the rabbi of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl, a synagogue in Baltimore.

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