A group organized last summer by Jewish activists opposed to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention of more than 50,000 undocumented immigrants is now calling for the emergency release of those detainees because of the risk they face from COVID-19 while in confinement.
Never Again Action is pressing governors across the nation to use their executive power to order the release of immigrant detainees within their states in the interest of the immigrants’ safety and the broader public health.
On the evening of March 20, Never Again Action members gathered outside the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse located close to the ICE field office in Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square. Noting that there are 10 detention centers in the New York metropolitan area, the demonstrators demanded that Governor Andrew Cuomo move to release those held in facilities within New York State.
Explicitly linking the confinement of undocumented immigrants to the rounding up of European Jews during the Holocaust, the group argues, “Anne Frank didn’t die in a gas chamber. Anne Frank died because she caught an infectious disease in a concentration camp. We have seen this before. We won’t let it happen again. Never again is now.”
The activists projected an image of Anne Frank onto the courthouse façade that explained that the famous Dutch Jewish teenage diarist died of typhus in a cramped, inhuman camp.
“Refusing to free refugees during a pandemic is the height of reckless cruelty,” said protestor Brad Cohn. “I hope Governor Cuomo has either the compassion — or, lacking that, the instinct for self-preservation — to protect all of us by liberating the most vulnerable among us.”
A written release from Never Again Action noted that there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff at the privately-operated ICE facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and that detainees held in Aurora, Colorado, may also have been exposed to infection.
In three detention facilities in New Jersey, immigrants being held are on a hunger strike, and the group last week also did an action at the Essex County Correctional Facility. It is calling for Governor Phil Murphy, like Cuomo, to release detainees held within his state.
Spokespeople for Cuomo and Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether each governor believed he had the authority to order the release of federal detainees, and if so whether he intended to do so.