About 100 protesters marked a Jewish day of remembrance Sunday by calling for closure of federal detention facilities for undocumented immigrants and for an end to the separation of migrant families.
The protest of Trump administration policies came four days after federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on seven food-processing plants in Mississippi ended in the detention of 680 undocumented workers. Sunday’s demonstration was held at ICE’s Pittsburgh field office on the South Side. It took place on Tisha B’Av, the day when Jews recall historical disasters ranging from the ancient falls of the first and second temples in Jerusalem, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, to the Holocaust.
“The Jewish tradition demands of us to see, to feel and to honor the pain of our own history and of those around us,” said Jeremy Markiz, a local rabbi who helped organize the protest. His T-shirt read “Resisting Tyrants Since Pharaoh.”
The protest was one of dozens planned for Tisha B’Av in cities around the country by groups including Bend the Arc, Tru’ah, National Council of Jewish Women, Religious Action Center, HIAS and J Street. Tisha B’Av is typically marked by prayer and fasting.
In Pittsburgh, Markiz asked participants to sit, as if in a traditional posture of repentance. Following the traditional blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, protesters heard speakers read statements and prayers condemning federal immigration policy. They also sang hymns and took part in chants including “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”
Some protesters carried signs drawing connections to the Nazi’s demonization and mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust: “Never Again Is Now” and “Speak Out Before No One Is Left to Speak Out.” One sign quoted Deuteronomy 10:19 in Hebrew and English: “You shall love the immigrant.”
“We have been the wandering stranger and we won’t forget them or forsake them,” Markiz told the crowd.
Trump has repeatedly referred to Latino immigrants as criminals, and to immigration as an "invasion."
Sunday's protest focused particularly on the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their families. While the administration formally scrapped the policy in October, immigrant advocates say it is still being practiced.
The ICE field office is an unmarked, three-story brick building on a stretch of Sidney Street that was lightly traveled Sunday morning. But the demonstration still drew passersby.
Ron Jardini, of Carrick, hadn’t known about the protest, but stopped to participate. Jardini said he was especially upset about last week’s ICE raids in Mississippi.
“These people got into our country to take the worst jobs in America, and they get arrested,” he said. “It’s absurd.” He noted his grandfather was an Italian immigrant.
Miriam Siedel, of Mount Lebanon, also said she had a personal stake in immigration policy. She said her mother survived the Holocaust only because her family broke the law to flee from Vienna to Brussels.
“My mother survived because people hid her,” said Seidel. “Good Christians hid her from Nazis.” The rest of her family did not survive. “There weren’t enough people to hide them,” she said.
Markiz, the rabbi, concluded Sunday’s hour-long demonstration by urging people to write and call their congressional representatives.
“Do not be silent, because silence is agreement,” he said. “That’s what it says in the Talmud, and we will not be silent.”