Photos by Alex Garland
Story by Aaron Burkhalter
Emma Klein stood in a line of people locked together at the wrists outside of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters on the 29th floor of a building in Downtown Seattle Aug. 8. She was one of 10 people blocking two entrances into the office to disrupt business for ICE to protest the escalating actions against people seeking asylum and undocumented immigrants in the United States.
While she stood there, she thought about her great-grandparents, who fled to Ellis Island in the United States to escape ongoing persecution and pogroms as Jews in Eastern Europe.
“Without immigration, I wouldn’t be here,” Klein said. “My ancestors would be dead.”
Klein’s great-grandparents came to the United States where their children became chemists, accountants, social workers, and authors. Subsequent generations went on to be doctors, carpenters, artists, and educators, among other careers.
“You can see how much each generation contributed to our society,” Klein said.
Klein and others collectively organized this day of action to draw the connection between Jewish people fleeing Europe and other parts of the world in the past to undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers coming to the United States today. The protest was part of the Never Again is Now movement and was organized following the leadership of the La Resistencia and the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.
“We’ve seen this groundwork laid before, and we were taught to never let anything like this happen again,” read an announcement for the event. ”White Christian nationalism is on the rise targeting people of color, immigrants, Jews, and Muslims.”
Speakers in Seattle included Rabbi David Basior of Kadima Reconstructionist Community, immigrant rights activist Maru Mora-Villalpando, Aneelah Afzali of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, and Monserrat Padilla with Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, who all addressed a crowd of hundreds at 1000 Second Ave.
Jewish activists have joined many others in targeting ICE and the immigration system across the country. Similar protests took place around the nation, particularly in New York Aug. 10 when protesters closed a highway and protested an Amazon store.
Locally, protestors challenged the owner of the building in Seattle, Martin Selig, to end the lease with ICE and stop hosting the government organization there.
Klein noted that in Tacoma, ICE is detaining people at the Northwest Detention Center, which she described as a “concentration camp for people trying to seek asylum.”
While public awareness about tightening U.S. borders and the detention of immigrants and their children seeking asylum has increased, this protest was not targeted only at ICE and President Donald Trump’s administration. Participants also called on Democratic leaders in office who are not taking action on this topic.
Diana Falchuk noted that President Barack Obama had deported more people than any previous administration, but that the situation has become “more and more potent” under Trump’s watch. Given that, Falchuk said, the lack of action by Democrats in office is unacceptable.
“We are not going to support them if they do not support immigrants in our communities,” Falchuk said.
The protest quickly realized one of its main goals. The organizers wanted to disrupt and stop the business of the ICE office in Seattle for a few hours. The plan was to block the entrances and halt work inside, but when they arrived ICE had already closed its office in anticipation of the protest.
Those who had agreed to be involved in the direct, nonviolent action locked themselves together in front of the two entrances for 45 minutes before ending that action.
“When we got there, we were thrilled that we had already accomplished what we set out to do,” Klein said.
But beyond that, the event worked to educate people and encourage them to not become complacent, even in the face of increased hostility toward immigrants, refugees, and those seeking asylum.
“If I’m a person of privilege, it’s my responsibility to stand up for people who do not have that privilege,” Klein said.
Emerald contributor Alex Garland captured the following images of the protest.
Featured Image: Protesters stand outside the building at 1000 2nd. Ave. that houses ICE’s Seattle headquarters.