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Bring Them Home – Immigration Rights Monthly Protest At the Aurora Processing Center, Colorado

April 7, 2014

Such a strange title for what amounts to a high security prison for undocumented immigrants being “processed” …ie kicked out of the country,”the Aurora Processing Center.” Just looking at it, the whole structure  wreaks of oppression. Do all the security guards there have beer bellies – good corn-fed  farm boys – like the three or four I saw from a distance, their stomachs hanging out over their belts?


Supporters of Coloradans For Immigration Rights

It is a fortress with high walls, barbed wire, an enormous facility a medieval dungeon in the 21st Century. But I have passed it many times driving down Peoria Street in Aurora and not even noticed it as the facility sits a block off of a main thoroughfare. If you didn’t know what was going on there, it would not be illogical to think it a meat processing center. After all what is a “processing center?” But this processing center processes people and kicks them out of the country. It breaks up families and crushes souls.Colorado “processing center” in Aurora has one of the oppressive records in the country and this country’s president has expelled more immigrants from these United States than anyone in his position in the past. A sorry record indeed and one that continues full steam.

There were about fifty of us out there protesting the treatment of undocumented residents of the United States in an event sponsored by AFSC and Coloradans for Immigrant Rights. A Jewish social justice group (finally!) in Denver, Bend The Arc, is also involved. Many present at the picket – themselves or family members – had been arrested by immigration and are facing deportation. One who had spent eight months inside the Aurora Processing Center was a woman named Kelly. She had been stopped for driving without a license and, her papers not in order, sent to the processing center for deportation. That she was able to get out of the center and remain in the country she credits to the immigration rights movement in Denver that helped her. But it would not have happened unless, as Kelly put it, she “came out of the shadows and into the light, to leave behind the fear”…go public and fight openly for her rights.

Molly, one of our daughters, had gone to these demonstrations several times before and it was about time that I joined in too. Immigration is a personal issue several generations removed. It is both a part of both the heritage of this country and of my own family. Along with many of their relatives, all of my grandparents immigrated to this country from what is today Lithuania, Poland and Belarus in the early years of the 20th century. My maternal grandmother, Sarah Magaziner (name changed to Magazine in the 1930s) was denied entry on her first try as a result of a minor eye infection. For that, – a woman who spoke seven languages fluently (Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Yiddish, Swedish and Hebrew) – eight if English is thrown in – and who had the voice of an opera singer, the daughter of a long line of rabbis and fisherman on the Niemen River – was deemed “eugenically unfit” and sent back to Europe from Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

1900 - Sarah Wishejsky

Sarah Wishejsky – in Bialystok, Poland, shortly before her marriage to Julius Magaziner. She was considered eugenically unfit at Ellis Island and sent back to Europe. He started a grand family pacifist tradition as he was a draft dodger from the Russian Army who escaped to the United States rather than spend twenty years in the army of a country which had organized pogroms (a nice word for massacres) of Russian and Ukrainian Jews.

She found refuge with a relative in Sweden. A few years later, she tried again, but this time her ship landed in Montreal from where she took a train down to New York City. While the Ellis Island entry to New York was as heavily guarded as the Mexican-U.S. border today (actually it is much worse today), there were no customs officers that greeted the trains from Canada to New York. So she slipped in, an illegal, undocumented woman from Bialystok, Poland with her two sons (one of whom died). One who survived, who made both journeys, was my Uncle Lou. Grandma Sarah would have fourteen pregnancies of which seven survived – my uncles Lou, Joe, Hymie, Ira, and Willie, my Aunt Mal (b. Molly changed her name to Malvina because it sounded more exotic as an adult) and the youngest and most pampered of the lot, my mother, Beatrice Magazine, called Beattie by her siblings and friends.

While anti-Semitism is still alive and well in some quarters here in the USA it is nowhere near as virulent today here as it was a century ago. Still it seems to have a life of its own just down the road from us in Colorado Springs both in its born-again mega-churches and, as it has been revealed, there is no small dose of it at the U.S. Air Force Academy as well. There are several bigoted “Christian identity” churches in northern Colorado near the Wyoming state line. Scary places where people preach hate against Jews, Gays, Blacks, immigrants from Latin America.

For all that, there is very little blatant anti-Semitism in the state and the Jewish Community here – especially in Denver and Boulder has thrived and made its mark. Although there always demons in the shadows, being a Jew in the United States today is not so hard as it was a century ago when the Prenskys, Magaziners, Wishejskys and Dubinskys – my relatives on both sides – landed in New York City.

Of course they came green off the boat a century ago…and culturally and religiously I suppose – it feels even longer than that. But it isn’t – just two generations. Jews in the early 20th century were in the forefront of immigration rights, civil rights movements in part because it has always been an integral part of Jewish heritage – Israel aside – in part because of the very real discrimination my relatives, ancestors suffered, here in the USA and in Europe. But then as things happen and time goes by and prosperity set in, memories of past injustices seem to fade. We tend to forget the thorny path on which our ancestors walked.

But I can’t seem to forget. I looked at these young Mexican mothers this evening fighting for their human rights to stay, live and participate in this country, fighting for their children, their husbands, brothers and sisters and I see my grandmother Sarah clinging to my Uncle Lou being forced back to Europe…from whence they made the journey “across the pond” a second and more successful time. I see this highly cultured and beautiful woman, daughter of a rabbi cursed as eugenically unfit, a subhuman by an Ellis Island immigration officer. Grandma Sarah, whose picture I carry in my wallet, speaks to me in her voice of broken English mixed with Yiddish saying…”Robinu, why did you wait so long to join them on this picket line..I’ve been waiting for you.”

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