In the summer of 2015, following my junior year of college, Donald Trump kicked off his candidacy by referring to Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists.” I was filled with dread.
Each subsequent bigoted claim sounded to me like an alarm bell.
As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I feel there is something eerily familiar about Trump’s scapegoating and dehumanizing rhetoric, which has led to racist policies like the Muslim ban, a dramatic escalation of immigration raids and detention, and the incarceration of children in internment camps.
All of this has prompted thousands of Jews across the country, myself included, to join a protest movement called Never Again Action, which is working in partnership with the immigrant-led Movimiento Cosecha. The group is demanding that politicians close the camps, shut down ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement), and end raids and deportations. On July 18, more than 1,000 Never Again demonstrators in Washington sent ICE headquarters into “lockdown condition,” according to a leaked ICE email.
Jews are waking up to the urgency of this moment because we recognize the dangerous pairing of scapegoating political rhetoric with racialized violence. We know the lasting trauma of separating families and confining human beings to enclosed spaces in abhorrent conditions.
I’m not saying the events of the Holocaust are repeating themselves right now. I’m saying that, as a Jew, I carry with me the memory of what can happen when everyday people allow our leaders to scapegoat an entire community. I’m saying that the atrocities taking place right now constitute a national emergency of extreme gravity and importance.
Prior to Trump’s election, the immigration system was already causing devastating harm to immigrant communities.
Detained immigrants have been forced to sleep on concrete floors, denied access to soap, showers and medical care, and subjected to what ACLU lawyer Chris Rickerd has called “overcrowding to the point of unsafe and deadly conditions.”
Reflecting on my own family history, there were German companies that profited off of my relatives’ persecution. Something similar is happening today, when most detained immigrants are held in private facilities administered by Core Civic and Geo Group. The two corporations have made financial contributions to Trump — and their stocks have soared thanks to his policies. That both normalizes and incentivizes these human rights abuses.
The trauma that children in Trump’s camps are living through — never knowing when they’ll be free or see their families again — will be with them the rest of their lives.
That’s a reality that I can barely begin to imagine. But I also wonder what their children and grandchildren will feel in the years to come — a question I can relate to.
Will they read about their grandparents’ plight in history books? Will they ask themselves how this could have happened?
Finally, will they wonder what’s to stop it from happening again? As a Jewish American, I want my answer to be: us.
Hana Sarfan is a “next leader” at the Institute for Policy Studies.