In last week’s parsha – Mishpatim, Exodus 22:20 – we are instructed: You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt. This is the first of 36 times in the Torah that we are cautioned about behavior toward a stranger. As Rabbi Harold Kushner says in the commentary of your Etz Hayyim: “The decency of a society is measured by how it cares for its least powerful members.
About 120 years ago my great grandparents came from Latvia to this country on their honeymoon. They liked it so much here that they decided to stay. According to the immigration laws at that time, this was no problem. Our borders were open for white people. This remained true until 1924. During this period many of our ancestors came to this country. In 1924, the doors were closed. It became almost impossible for Jews to enter this country and for those who did enter the wait could be years. Because of this political decision, Jews were not able to escape Europe. We don’t know how many of the 6,000,000 of our brothers and sisters would have been able to escape their fate if the doors had been open, but it surely would have been many thousands. Immigration laws have always been about political needs not about some imagined financial or physical ability to absorb immigrants. Today we have a system that is broken.
Since its creation in 2003, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has detained thousands of people in raids on businesses and residences throughout the country. According to ICE, these raids are designed to protect public safety and national security by enforcing federal immigration law. However, these raids cause a considerable amount of hardship for immigrants and their families- both in the U.S. and in home countries- and for U.S. citizens.
Raids separate families, violate U.S. due process laws, hurt the economy, waste taxpayer money, misuse local police, and threaten the basic human rights of U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.
Facts: The Raids
* In 2008, 5,100 were taken into custody during workplace raids compared to 685 in 2004.
* Many raids involve violations of due process, including entering without a warrant, interrogation without reasonable suspicion of unlawful immigration status, and racial profiling.
Facts: The Costs
* In 2008, ICE’s budget was $5B. That’s 80% more than the Environmental Protection Agency and $4B more than the Department of State
* Although ICE has not disclosed the amount spent on all of its 2008 raids, $5.2 million was spent on the raid on Agriprocessors in Iowa. 389 workers were detained, making the cost $13,300 per detainee.
* It costs approximately $95 per person per night to keep a person in a detention center.
Facts: The Detention Centers
* Over 300,000 people are held in immigration detention facilities each year at an annual cost to the government of nearly $2 billion.
* Approximately 67% of people detained in ICE raids are not held in Department of Homeland Security detention centers. Instead, they are detained in over 312 county and city prisons nationwide where DHS rents bed space. Detained immigrants are mixed in with incarcerated criminals.
* Immigrants detained in raids can remain in detention centers for as long as three years. During this time, detainees are held in severely overcrowded facilities, sometimes 50% over design capacity.
Facts: The Communities and Families
Many of these immigrants come with there families who then suffer because of the ICE raids even though many of the children are U. S. citizens.
* 5,000,000 U.S. citizens under the age of 18 have 1-2 undocumented parents.
* Small towns and local economies can be crippled by immigration raids. In towns such as Laurel, Mississippi and Postville, Iowa, sites of the two largest ICE raids in U.S. history, the loss of taxpayers, tenants, and workers at businesses have caused property values to plummet and general economic crisis.
Whether you agree or disagree that these immigrants should be allowed to be in the country, there are two important facts to consider: 1) These people came to this country like almost everyone does and did to find work and make a better life; and 2) our immigration system needs to be reformed.
What can be done to hasten this reform?
Jewish Community Action and partners across the country, including: Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (Chicago), Jews United For Justice (D.C.), Progressive Jewish Alliance (Los Angeles), Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (NY), JCRC of Southern Arizona, JCRC of Greater Washington, Uri L’Tzedek (NY), Miklat! A Jewish Response to Displacement (Milwaukee), the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, B’nai B’rith Intl., Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, National Council of Jewish Women, Union for Reform Judaism, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Jewish Labor Committee, and the Rabbinical Assembly invite you to join in a campaign called Progress by Pesach. The goal is simple: an end to immigration raids by Passover.
For Jews, Passover is a time when we celebrate our freedom from bondage, remember when we were strangers in a strange land, and connect our history to modern-day liberation struggles.
This year, Passover coincides with the end of the Obama Administration’s First 100 Days. The campaign calls upon President Obama to issue an executive order ending immigration raids immediately. This would demonstrate that real progress has been made toward the long-term goal of fair, humane, comprehensive federal immigration reform and is an important part of supporting immigrants and communities.
President Obama will only sign an executive order ending immigration raids if we make sure our voices are heard loudly along with the voices of immigrants and allies. Recently there was an ICE raid in Bellingham, Washington.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a review of this raid that ended with the arrests of 28 illegal immigrants. She wants to know why the Tuesday raid happened and all background information, as she looks into the case.
President Obama, who appointed Napolitano, has signaled for a shift in immigration policy that would rely less on work site enforcement, focusing instead on employers who hire illegal immigrants and overall immigration reform.
We need fair, humane, comprehensive federal immigration reform to protect the rights of all people. This reform would provide a path to citizenship, emphasize family reunification, legalize future migration, protect human rights, ensure dignity and due process of law, and protect workers and employers. We cannot rely on enforcement only tactics like raids to fix our broken immigration system.
Many of our ancestors came to this country when immigration laws were different, and at times they were excluded by U.S. immigration policy. Some of our ancestors also arrived without documents too. Until CFIR is passed, there is virtually no path to legal residency and citizenship available to the majority of new immigrants.
What can you do?
Join Jewish Community Action in raising your voice by signing this petition. It will be in the small chapel as you enter. Or go to jewish community action.org and sign on line.
You can also join Jewish Community Action at its 7th annual Immigrant Rights Freedom Seder on March 22, 2009 and use our Immigrant Rights Freedom Seder inserts at your families’ Passover celebration in April.
Again I would like to thank the Rabbi and also the Rosenblum’s for this opportunity to speak.