Fifty Jewish groups across the United States assembled in protest of ICE on a day of mourning, Tisha B’av. United We Dream, an immigrant-led organization, asked allies to hold vigils and protests outside of ICE offices, so Jewish organizations came together to host Tisha B’Av Action: Jews Say #CloseTheCamps.
One of these assemblies took place outside of the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River. According to event organizer Jacob Kraus-Preminger, the jail holds the most ICE detainees in Minnesota. Kraus-Preminger of Jewish Community Action and National Council of Jewish Women’s Beth Gendler organized the event.
The assembly Sunday evening began with about 150 people singing a lamentation called Hashiveinu and Olam Chesed Yibaneh, a song of building the world from love.
Maria “Mixie” Schulz lit a sage candle to “clear the air and bless the space.”
Schulz spoke to the group about her detained husband John “Sota” Bing and what he’s been witnessing in his two months in the jail. He was also detained in 2014.
“A lot of people in there don’t have families, they don’t think anybody cares about them, they don’t have money,” she said.
“The water inside, they don’t drink it because there’s blue stuff in it. It gives them headaches,” Schulz said. “The food isn’t very nutritious. He said it’s tearing away at his insides, it doesn’t feel right to eat.”
Bing tries to help other immigrants as a translator because 90% of the people inside don’t speak English and get bullied, said Schulz.
She said there are people detained for years because they have an open case or don’t know their rights.
Schulz also has to pay to video call Bing, and visits are not allowed.
According to Nancy Hassett who protests outside the jail every Wednesday, the detainees also don’t get any outdoor time. There is no yard because the facility isn’t meant to hold people long-term.
The jail has a contract with ICE to detain as many as 300 immigrants at a time and is working on expanding to hold 500.
Hassett says her organization Sanctuary and Resistance to Injustice won’t let that happen. She said, “Not here, not now, no,” and the crowd chanted her words.
Alternating with speakers such as Schulz and Hassett, members of the Jewish community chanted Eicha, the lamentations read on Tisha B’av. Some lamentations were added in English to reflect the current situations of immigrants in the U.S.
Other speakers included Dana Rees who has a Jewish/Mexican family and Bob Aronson who chairs Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which focuses on “refugee protection and refugee dignity.” HIAS was one of the organizers of the nationwide events.
Following havdalah and a shofar-blowing to mark the end of Tisha B’av, the night closed with one last testimonial from Issiaka Traore.
He came to the U.S. as an international student in 2012 but hasn’t been allowed to leave. Traore also is forced to go without working at times because it can take months for his work authorization to be renewed.
Traore asked for any suggestions or legal help people can offer him, and Schulz has a petition and a GoFundMe to raise money to free Bing and better his conditions as well as help her and their three kids.