One of the most grim, publicly heartbreaking developments of the still-young Trump era has been a surge in both the frequency and nature of immigration raids, with ICE agents reportedly descending on schools and courthouses to detain people for deportation. And at a town hall in Sacramento, California on Tuesday, a deeply powerful scene unfolded. Holocaust survivor Bernard Marks challenged Sheriff Scott Jones and ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan, comparing the current anti-immigrant political climate to what he went through as a child in Nazi Germany.
Marks, 87, is a Sacramento educator who survived the horrors of the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. His statement to Jones and Homan was staunchly moralistic and condemning, equating the anti-immigrant tenor of modern American conservatism with the climate of "picking on people" that preceded the Holocaust.
When I was a little boy in Poland, for no other reason but for being Jewish, I was hauled off by the Nazis. And for no other reason I was picked up and separated from my family, who was exterminated in Auschwitz. And I am a survivor of Auschwitz, and Dachau. I spent five and a half years in concentration camp, for one reason and one reason only. Because we picked on people.
And you as the sheriff, who we elected as sheriff of this county, we did not elect you the sheriff of Washington, D.C. It’s about time you side with the people here. And when [ICE director Homan] stands up there, and says he doesn’t go after people, he should read today’s Bee. Because in today’s Bee, the Supreme Court Justice of the state of California objected to ICE coming in and taking people away from the courts. Don’t tell me that this is a lie!
Marks concluded with a strong, simple statement: "You stand up here, Mr. Jones. Don’t forget. History is not on your side." As he walked away from the microphone, the hall was flooded with cheers and applause. He was entirely correct about the California Supreme Court justice calling on ICE to stop "stalking courthouses." That was Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who addressed her letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security chief John Kelly. It read, in part:
Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws. Our courts are the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress, and crises in their lives.
California ― where the Democrats control both legislative branches and the governor's office― is at the forefront of resistance to the Trump agenda, and that's also true on matters of immigration. Marks' appearance at the town hall, however, provided an emotional punch and viral moment that few can match.