HomeBlogsJeff Hewitt's blogOn the precipice of a massive, nationwide ICE operation, Norfolk activists stand up to say "No."

On the precipice of a massive, nationwide ICE operation, Norfolk activists stand up to say "No."

June 24, 20192738Views

Norfolk, Va. June 23rd. On the steps of the Custom House.

"Do I want to remember?
The peaceful ghetto, before the raid:
Children shaking like leaves in the wind.
Mothers searching for a piece of bread.
Shadows, on swollen legs, moving with fear.
No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?" -- Poet and Holocaust survivor, Alexander Kimel. Excerpted from "I cannot forget."

"Basically, what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell, with almost no adult supervision. We have children caring for other young children. For example, we saw a little boy in diapers — or he had no diapers on. He should have had a diaper on. He was 2 years old. And when I was asked why he didn't have diapers on, I was told he didn't need it. He immediately urinated. And he was in the care of another child. Children cannot take care of children, and yet that's how they are trying to run this facility. The children are hardly being fed anything nutritious, and they are being medically neglected. We're seeing a flu outbreak, and we're also seeing a lice infestation. It is — we have children sleeping on the floor. It's the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections."Warren Binford, Professor of Law at Willamette University, giving his eye-witness account of an ICE detention center in Texas, June 21st, 2019.

Is America so blind to its past that we can honestly act as though we're incapable of running concentration camps? The 1830 Indian Removal Act, leading to the horror of forced marches for tribes resulting in the deaths of over five thousand Native Americans. The 1865 Passage of the 13th Amendment, with its loophole to allow for slavery as result of incarceration under the guise of criminal law. The opening of Ellis Island, mistakenly viewed as a beacon of freedom when it was in fact, an immigration detention center. The forced relocation and incarceration in internment camps of a hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans during WWII. Go back up to the top of this and read those two passages -- one from a Holocaust survivor, the other given mere days ago from a witness in an ICE Detention Center in Texas. How much difference exists between the two depictions? And our President celebrates this. Shame to anyone who averts their gaze. The man should be dragged from office and beaten in the streets. Along with everyone else who enables this atrocity under the banner of jingoism.

Want to make a difference? Click here to get involved with Tidewater Immigrant Transit Assistance.

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"Detention Center." It sounds so much more civilized than concentration camp. And while there's no reports of the more extreme horrors that Nazi Germany engaged in? How is caging children by the thousands and forcing them to urinate and defecate upon themselves without recourse any better? Our culpability stretches across the nation with Federal agencies attempting to co-opt city law enforcement to make life easier for these agents of misery. Raids casting wide nets, sweeping up anyone with brown skin or an accent, inevitably require space in which to jail them. And so ICE turns to local sheriffs looking for cages.

Months ago it was revealed that Norfolk was assisting ICE under an Inter-Governmental Service Agreement through the US Marshals in detaining over 800 souls across a two year period. It's important to note that while our jails do not appear to have been housing anyone caught in local raids or at the borders, an argument can be made that providing any assistance to ICE relieves pressures to their overall operation. It's entirely possible that clearing a space in a central detention facility makes room for children separated from their parents at the border. That it makes room for construction workers nabbed at a bus station. ICE has demonstrated time and time again a willingness to use false documents, dishonor terms of contracts with local jails, and otherwise use naked deception in pursuit of Trump's racist agenda.

Reporting from the Virginian-Pilot's Jonathan Edwards broke the story, leading to public outcry. Sheriff Joe Baron, to his credit, when pressed by activists with information that ICE had misled his office on key points, stopped taking new detainees while he reviewed the agreement. The major point of contention appears to be over a breaking of the contract that no detainees who had not been before a judge would be accepted by our jail system. Specifically, the Norfolk Sheriff's office did not agree to hold any inmates under a civil detainment order, and when presented with information indicating that that line had been crossed, Baron became highly concerned and took action immediately to put a halt to it. To be fair, local law enforcement is often placed between a rock and a hard place on these issues. Many cities depend on Federal contracts and financial assistance, and bucking Agent Orange too publicly can jeopardize desperately needed funding.

A recent FOIA request shows that he has kept to his word, as there have been no new ICE inmates in the Norfolk jail since late February. The contract is up for renewal in September, and I urge anyone who is outraged by the horrific treatment ICE has perpetrated on the most vulnerable within our borders to contact his office and urge him to let the contract expire at it's completion. To my eyes, Baron has acted fairly since the story brought this agreement into the open. He has committed to establishing a team to create a department handbook stating in clear terms how the Sheriff's Department should and should not comply with ICE requests, to include clear representations of what a legal warrant looks like to deter some of the false paperwork ICE has been known to use in detaining or gaining access to vulnerable undocumented immigrants. All this said, public engagement serves the cause of justice. He should be reminded at every turn that the public is watching closely, and will be paying attention to his course on this come election time. His office may be reached at (757) 664-4700.

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A group of activists from different organizations converged at the US Customs House this afternoon to decry Trump's latest temper tantrum taken out on our immigrants and migrant workers. The protest was led by Tidewater Solidarity Collective, and included participants from the Catholic Workers League, DE-ICE Norfolk, Tidewater Immigrant Transit Assistance, the DSA, and others. While raising outcry against injustice is vital and necessary to a functioning democracy, I urge anyone who cares about this issue to contact Tidewater Immigrant Transit Assistance to find out how you can help. The work they've been doing to provide help for migrants traveling through our city is a laudable, and a necessary counterpoint to the racist discourse surrounding a people who want nothing more than to work hard and provide a living for their families. You can find out more by visiting their public page at

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Words and pics by Jeff Hewitt