Though he didn’t know it at the time, on June 30 Sagie Tvizer ’19 became one of the first people arrested in a series of protests against U.S. immigration policy—specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) use of immigrant detention camps.
“I was the first person arrested in this protest at Elizabeth, [N.J.], which was the first protest. Now there have been dozens upon dozens over the country,” said Tvizer. “I felt so empowered participating in this action… [but] it’s also a reflection of the work so many others have done, other Brandeis students, other young Jewish people.”
“And it’s not about me,” Tvizer continued. “It’s about the 144,000 people in American concentration camps in 2019.”
Over 144,000 migrants, the largest number in 13 years, were apprehended or denied entry to the country in May, according to a Texas Tribune article.
But Tvizer was not the only Brandeis student to protest against ICE policies this summer. Two juniors, LilyFish Gomberg ’20 and Rachel Steinberg ’20 were arrested together at a protest of detention camps on July 2.
“These are concentration camps in America,” said Steinberg. “In the Jewish community, we often say never again, and I think it should mean never again for everyone, not just for Jews.”
Earlier this summer, multiple news outlets reported on poor conditions in ICE detention centers, including bad smells, high heat, overcrowded conditions and no access to hot meals or showers, according to a USA today article.
The protests were a part of Never Again Action, a newly formed organization of Jewish people protesting ICE policies.
“We’ve been taught the signs by our ancestors,” reads Never Again Actions home webpage. “As our government runs concentration camps, and rounds up and cages our neighbors, we are called to speak out.”
While the grass-roots organization is operating nationwide, these three Brandeis students took action closer to home in both New Jersey and Boston, M.A.
Sagie Tvizer ’19
Tvizer graduated in May after a long history of student activism at Brandeis, including advocating for gun control reform after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
And as a post-graduate, his activism has continued. Tvizer was part of one of the first Never Again Action protests against a detention center in Elizabeth, N.J.
When he arrived, Tvizer said, the detention center had all of its windows covered with mylar blankets and that Tvizer could not see a single detainee.
“That means that there is no natural light entering, that there is limited ventilation with the outside, most importantly it means that the detainees cannot see the outside world,” Tvizer said. “That’s not how we should be treating people who are seeking asylum.”
When he was arrested, Tvizer said that he was charged with obstructing the public passage, or the road to the detention center.
“The Elizabeth police claim that I was obstructing the public passage,” Tvizer said. “That is, I along with 35 other Jews and allies in our protest shut down a road to a CoreCivic private detention facility. This private facility just houses youth. It is contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the road that we shut down only leads to this facility—so we weren’t actually harming anyone else.”
Tvizer is proud of his and Never Again Action’s activism but also felt the conversation on immigration was derailed by a debate on whether or not detention camps can be called concentration camps.
“The mass concentration of people in a detention center who (one) haven’t committed a crime and (two) don’t pose a threat. That literally meets the definition of a concentration camp,” said Tvizer. “The idea of taking that history and misusing it, appropriating it for any cause, I think disgusts some people and rightfully so. The problem is these are concentration camps, and this is different from a death camp.”
But from what Tvizer has heard and seen from both his friends and Never Again Action, he is optimistic about their activism.
“Jewish Americans will not accept these conditions,” Tvizer said.
Outside of Never Again Action, Tvizer remains active in local politics in Waltham, M.A., working as the assistant field coordinator for Jonathan Paz’s campaign for Waltham City Council.
Rachel Steinberg ’20 and LilyFish Gomberg ’20
Just a few days after Tvizer’s arrest, Steinberg and Gomberg were also arrested protesting for the same cause, just in a different city: Boston.
For Steinberg, it was her boyfriend’s visit to the remnants of a concentration camp in Poland that helped the issue of immigration detention hit home.
“My boyfriend was actually in Poland the day I got arrested, and the day before I got arrested, he visited Auschwitz. So there is a very clear connection for me between what is happening now in America and what happened during World War II.”
Gomberg was inspired by seeing other protestors being arrested and marching and decided to join the team willing to be arrested in Boston. She also said that her Jewish ancestry played a part and reconnected the story of some of her ancestors who died because others failed to treat them as humans. She felt she needed to help.
“In Boston, the ICE detention center has windows, and it is actually one of the only ones in the country where the people who were protesting were able to see the people inside,” said Gomberg. “The detainees were holding up signs that said their names, help or lockdown.”
When Steinberg arrived at the protest, she only had three things in her pocket, she said: $40 in cash, identification and a handwritten note saying that she had a connective tissue disorder, which meant that if officers handled her too roughly, her bones would dislocate, she said.
The July 2 protest began at the New England Holocaust Memorial, said Steinberg, and those who were taking the risk of being arrested were driven to the front of the march.
“We were all just fired up. We went and we sat on the steps in front of the station, and we sang,” Steinberg said.
Very quickly, said Steinberg, she was arrested and with her hands zip tied behind her back, she was placed in a police vehicle with Gomberg.
While in the vehicle, said Steinberg, her wrists began to dislocate. She was able to prevent a full dislocation, and said that the police officer who zip tied her made an effort to make sure that the zip tie wasn’t too tight.
At the police station, Steinberg was fingerprinted, booked and placed in a jail cell with two friends, including Gomberg, she said. They remained in the cell for eight to nine hours, said Steinberg, and though the cell was loud and the toilet did not flush, when they were released Never Again Action provided legal support for a quick hearing dismissing her charge of trespassing, and the charges of the other 18 people who were arrested.
Steinberg had never been arrested before but said she would absolutely do it again. She also encouraged others to participate, and said that no matter someone’s ability, there are many different ways to get involved.
“I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can. I don’t want to look back and say I could have done more,” Steinberg said. “Whatever experience I had would be nothing compared to what these children are going through.”
“I know I have friends who came to this country in maybe the not most legal ways, and they don’t deserve that. Nobody deserves that,” she said.
Outside of her activism over the summer, Steinberg took a screenwriting and an art history class. Gomberg volunteered with Keshet, an organization fighting for equality of LGBTQ Jewish people.
CORRECTIONS: A previous version of the article stated that Tvizer’s arrest was June 3, this was corrected to June 30. The arrest of Steinberg and Gomberg was also incorrectly written. Their arrest was July 2, not June 2.