An innovative approach to 'abolish ICE'
How a group of Jewish activists is working to weaken the immigration enforcement agency from within
For weeks, organizers with Never Again Action, a Jewish-led advocacy group, have gathered outside of ICE offices across the country. Singing protest songs, they implore ICE officers put a stop to the agency's abusive detention and deportation practices. "Quit your job!" is a common plea.
Some may just take them up on it.
This week, Never Again Atlanta, one of the group's many local chapters, launched a job placement program for immigration officers seeking to distance themselves from the agency. The program seeks to make leaving the agency a real possibility by matching conscientious objectors with career advisers and job opportunities. "As we looked into these agents' eyes, we could tell they weren't comfortable with what was going on. We've asked them to quit their jobs, so how can we make it easy on them?" Emily Baselt, an organizer with Never Again Atlanta, told The Week.
Never Again Action's founders say their organization stems from a refusal to stand by in the face of intensifying attacks on immigrant communities. "As Jews, we've been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again", their website reads, "Now, with children detained in unacceptable conditions, ICE terrorizing immigrants in every corner of the country, and people dying at the border... We refuse to wait and see what happens next."
Yet even some who passionately agree with the group's stance will take issue with the approach of working with current ICE officers. Should the very facilitators of ICE cruelty be allowed turn a new page? It's something Never Again Action, too has wrestled with: "It's a delicate balance. We want to help conscientious objectors, but ultimately, Never Again Action is a direct action organization. Slowing down operations by forcing the agency to hire and train replacements is unquestionably important — we're serious in declaring that 'never again means now,'" Baselt adds.
The asymmetry is stark: ICE agents are extended an olive branch, allowed to walk away from their pasts with few questions asked, while the migrants they hound are rarely afforded that opportunity.
Still, the approach could prove to be disruptive: all new ICE hires are required to attend 22 weeks of basic training, so replacing staff is no minor undertaking. Last year, leaders of the agency's investigative branch — which handles counter-terrorism, narcotics enforcement, and human trafficking — moved to split off from the organization due to concerns that anger towards ICE's immigration enforcement division hampered their ability to do their jobs. At least two long-term employees have stepped down from the agency in the past two years, citing discomfort with aggressive enforcement priorities. As ICE morale hits new lows, many others may jump at an opportunity for an exit.
The timing is no accident. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of atonement, Never Again Action has planned further protests outside ICE offices. The response has been immediate: within hours of announcing the campaign, a flurry of interested volunteers reached out looking to offer job placement expertise. Then, the organization says, an ICE agent cautiously reached out. Then another, from Customs and Border Patrol.
"We launched the website not really knowing what the response would be — but now that it's out there, we're concretely giving people another choice," Baselt said. "We're quickly fleshing out a national framework — it became immediately clear that this would be bigger than Atlanta."
But some still have questions.
What does accountability look like for those who enact violence on the most vulnerable? Can everyone be redeemed? Leah Fuhr, another organizer with Never Again Atlanta, turns to her faith to grapple with these questions. "My Jewish values have led me here. The Torah tells us that we must welcome the stranger," she tells me, citing scripture. "I do think during this season of reflection and atonement that there is room for redemption."
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