By Crescenzo Vellucci
Sacramento Vanguard Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – COVID-19 could soon turn immigrant detention centers in California into “death camps,” warned more than 100 immigrant advocates tucked inside 50-placard emblazoned vehicles Tuesday as they circled the State Capitol as part of a multi-city, car-based direct action calling on the governor to free immigrants from the ICE centers.
The advocates cruised through Sacramento around noon, horns blaring, driving by the closed Capitol and ICE building on Capitol Mall – braving a “stay-at-home” order to pressure Gov. Newsom and other public officials to use their emergency powers to close California detention centers.
Similar protests were held in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego Tuesday.
The Sacramento car-protest was organized Jewish Action NorCal and Never Again Action Sacramento, with a coalition of allies, advocates, and activists from Indivisible Yolo, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement – Sacramento AFL-CIO, Florin Japan American Citizens League, NAA San Francisco Bay Area, NAA Los Angeles and Otay Mesa Detention Resistance.
They said their goal was to call attention to the danger detained immigrants and incarcerated people face as coronavirus spreads, because the “deadly potential of a COVID-19 outbreak in detention facilities” has been ignored by authorities, “especially as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).”
“We know that Anne Frank didn’t die in the gas chambers, but she died of a communicable disease in the crowded and dirty conditions of a detention center,” charged Sam Tunick, an organizer with Never Again Action Bay Area. “We don’t want to see history repeated – we are doing what we wish bystanders during the Holocaust had done for our ancestors.”
Protestors risked potential legal penalties for traveling while a Shelter in Place order is in effect – it requires only “essential” travel.
But the caravan-goers Tuesday said they were willing to risk fines or jail to do an “essential” service of lobbying government about the “grave and immediate danger faced by migrants in detention centers and being transferred to ICE custody.”
More than 52,000 migrants, nearly 6,000 of them in California, are held in detention facilities in the US.
Never Again Action released the following statement when the group formed in summer 2019:
“As Jews, our history has taught us what happens when people do nothing; we are heeding the message of our ancestors when we say #NeverAgainIsNow.”
In this time of global health crisis, the group adds that “inaction alone will kill thousands.”
“With several California Jewish Activist organizations leading a coordinated, four city statewide rally here in Sacramento, in LA, SD, and SF, we honk our horns collectively in a huge statement of California’s solidarity with the people wrongly detained by ICE, which has acted like a new Gestapo through their hateful and harmful tactics and treatment of non-white skinned immigrants,” said Greg Brucker, one of the Sacramento organizers.
“As Jews, when as we reflect on the horrors of Nazi Germany, we say ‘Never Again’ with respect to genocide and the widespread imprisonment of any people for who they are, and we mean it. Never Again for Anyone, Anywhere, and we must stand up now, for, with the grave threat that is COVID-19, we recognize that without action now by local, state, and federal leaders, detention facilities will become death camps,” he added.
“We have already seen ICE place COVID-19 positive immigrants back into the ICE camps general population in NJ, and in Rikers in NY, there are reported over 300 people with the virus. Without release of people from these detention facilities, more people will die…we must rise and speak for them, as we as Jews hope that people would speak out for us,” Brucker added.
He explained that advocates believe what they did Tuesday – challenging the “essential only” travel ban – was, in fact, “essential,” because they are trying to “peacefully help save lives and protect people by giving a voice to those that don’t have a voice…if we don’t stand up for them, no one else will. This is essential…to make sure that no one is left behind due to the pandemic that is COVID-19.”
Japanese Americans, the victims of concentration camp detentions a generation ago, were blunt in the belief that detention centers should be emptied.
“Japanese Americans were not only imprisoned due to racist policies during WWII, but over 1,800 died in the camps from infectious diseases like typhoid fever, smallpox, whooping cough, flue, diphtheria and tuberculosis due to the overcrowding,” said Josh Kaizuka, co-president Florin JACL-Sacramento Valley/Sacramento Tsuru for Solidarity.
“What is happening today is a repetition of the trauma experienced by our former incarcerees, their families and descendants. We cannot stand by and be complicit by being silent,” he added.
Rhonda Rios Kravitz, Dean Emerita, Sacramento City College and CEO of Alianza, confided that the virus may already be at Yuba County jail where ICE detainees are being held.
“The immigrants inside Yuba Jail are not safe. Visits were suspended two weeks ago, and detainees are trapped in close quarters and unable to protect themselves if the coronavirus was to get into the jail,” she said, adding that “there are sick people there, and no way to find out if COVID-19 is the cause.
“COVID-19 is a very serious threat in prisons and jails. Detention facilities do not have the capacity to ensure the necessary physical distancing, hygiene and disinfection to prevent or control COVID-19 as has been demonstrated by recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses, such as mumps, influenza and varicella, which have spread through immigration detention facilities,” she said.
“The continued immigration enforcement and detention of more than 6,000 immigrants in California’s ICE detention centers puts immigrants’ lives at risk as well as all employees working in these facilities. Gov. Newsom should immediately use his emergency powers to release all immigrants from the detention centers in California,” Rio Kravitz said.
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