"The New Colossus" (copy)

A plaque displays "The New Colossus" poem by Emma Lazarus in the museum inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

The inspired national activist group Never Again Action, which has become such a powerful presence in protests against the Trump administration’s crude assaults on immigrants and refugees, begins with a simple premise: “When Jews say ‘Never Again,’ we mean it.”

Last Thursday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Jewish leaders stepped up. They blockaded the garage entrance to the Milwaukee Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in an act of civil disobedience.

“Our whole lives we were taught, ‘You shall not stand idly by,’" explained Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Madison’s Congregation Shaarei Shamayim. "We refuse to remain silent when migrants face inhumane treatment. We refuse to remain silent when they are forced into filthy, overcrowded detention centers and deprived of basic rights. American Jews came to this country seeking a better way of life and at times fleeing persecution. We stand in solidarity with today’s immigrant community. We will protest until our government treats them with dignity.”

That solidarity has been on display for some time, as members of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim and their allies have organized to support Voces de la Frontera, the Milwaukee-based immigrant rights group that has played a critical role in making real the promise of “worldwide welcome” made by the Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus in her poem of the Statue of Liberty (“The New Collosus”):

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

“This an act of remembrance," explained former state Rep. Sandy Pasch. "'Never Again' in 2019 means we demand that the Trump administration close the camps at the border, shut down ICE, and provide permanent protection for all undocumented immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.”

For many of the Wisconsinites who have joined in this “Never Again” activism, the protests on behalf of immigrants and refugees have a profoundly personal resonance.

“We know that #NeverAgainIsNow," explains Dr. Michael Rosen, a retired professor at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and longtime leader of the American Federation of Teachers local on that campus. "American Jews grew up learning about the Holocaust from survivors in our families or communities, refugees in every sense of the word. Many of us had relatives murdered in the Nazi concentration camps. We are sounding the alarm and directing national outrage where it belongs, to the government’s treatment of immigrants.”

May these activists, and their American vision, go from strength to strength.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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