‘Never again’ means standing up for our immigrant neighbors
Drawing by Víctor Meléndez / People's World

Imagine for a moment that you’re driving your child and their friend to a soccer game.

Suddenly, lights flash behind you. You pull over, and immediately, ICE agents with guns surround your car, screaming for you to keep your hands up. They’ve been tracking your kid’s friend and their whole family. This kid didn’t even know that they were undocumented, because they’ve been here as long as they can remember.

Your child watches as you’re slammed to the hood of a police cruiser, handcuffed, and charged with a felony. Your child watches their friend get taken away by ICE. You and your child will never see that friend or their parents (your own friends) again.

If Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican supermajority in the Florida Legislature get their way, this nightmare scenario will soon become a reality in Florida. And if it does, Florida’s extreme anti-immigrant legislation could become law throughout the entire country if Republicans retake the presidency in 2024.

After all, DeSantis—whose 2024 presidential run is all but announced—has already soft-launched the central premise of his vision: The rest of the U.S. should be like Florida.

Central to DeSantis’ platform of exclusion and discrimination are Senate Bill 1718 and House Bill 1617, under which people would be charged with third-degree felonies for sheltering, hiring, and transporting undocumented people.

That means any of the over 722,000 Floridians of mixed-status families in the state could face jail time just for the crime of sharing space with a parent, sibling, cousin, or friend. Hospital staff would be required to report patients’ immigration status to the state or risk their livelihoods. The implications of these bills’ passage are almost too painful to imagine.

In practice, this would prevent people from seeking necessary medical care, for fear that they or someone they love could be deported. If you’re an Uber driver (or a soccer mom) who gives an undocumented person a ride somewhere? Handcuffs could be in your future. If you’re a landlord who rents to a tenant who is undocumented? Jail. If you’re a U.S. citizen and an adult child of undocumented parents? Felony charges. Disenfranchisement. Reduced employment opportunities. Your voice at the polls, silenced.

As Jews, we have seen this all before. We’ve seen the scapegoating of a marginalized population already facing increased poverty and violence. We’ve seen the criminalization of people trying to help. And we’ve seen—we know—where this road goes.

When people think about the Holocaust, they tend to associate it with the horrific end results. But often, less time is spent thinking about the political climate and policies that helped it get there—the process of gradual normalization of discrimination, exclusion, and expulsion—before the extermination.

Authoritarianism festers in environments of uncertainty, where children and adults learn to fear asking questions, where the ambiguity of laws and cultural norms cast deep shadows over every decision. And it leads to average citizens changing their own behavior ahead of any actual risk, in order to avoid facing violence at the hands of the state.

Understandably, many people have a difficult time taking risks. They want to know what is legal and what isn’t, to make informed choices and generally do what they can to avoid punishment or negative consequences. So, if a punitive law is on the horizon, and it feels unclear in any way how, or if, it could affect you, chances are you would err on the side of caution. Of course you would, to protect yourself and your family.

Let’s not mince words: If you’re unsure whether or not you can legally give your child’s friend a ride without ending up behind bars, then clearly, we’ve passed a critical point as a society.

We are not so far down the road that we can’t turn back. And no one has to fight this fight alone. In Florida, and around the country, the majority viewpoint is not that of ideologues like DeSantis. Most Floridians, and most Americans, are not in favor of breaking up families and criminalizing carpooling.

If we mobilize and organize against these human rights abuses, we can avoid the worst outcomes and turn toward an immigration policy built on empathy instead of cruelty, rationality instead of hate. The future is unwritten.

Where this road ends is entirely within our hands.

This article originally appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. It is published here with the permission of the author.

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Hallie Berkson-Gold
Hallie Berkson-Gold

Hallie Berkson-Gold is the communications director of Never Again Action, a Jewish-led mobilization against the persecution, detention, and deportation of immigrants in the United States.