Over the past few weeks, many of us gathered with our families and our community to celebrate Hanukkah and, together, bring more light into this dark time. As people across the Commonwealth, and the country, celebrate festivals in their own traditions, we’re mindful of the many families among us who do not have the option of being together this season.
Francisco Rodriguez has been in detention for almost half a year, separated from his wife and children. In that time, he was prevented from being with his wife for the birth of their child. Siham Byeh, detained with no warning by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while her eight-year-old son was in school, remains in detention, with no end in sight. This past year, many in our community, and across MA, made calls to ICE, and attended rallies to support them – all to no avail -until yesterday. We were relieved to hear the news that Francisco was released yesterday, as he awaits his asylum claim to be heard. But Siham, and so many others, remain in the clutches of our broken immigration system, separated from their loved ones.
These high stakes have led other undocumented immigrants to take drastic measures to stay together with their families, like the mother in Cambridge who has not left a Harvard Square church for seven months in order to stay here with her two young children, or like the man who sought Sanctuary in a church in Jamaica Plain so he could continue to be near his family.
Through our synagogue organizing work, JCRC has galvanized hundreds of our community members and supported the interfaith community in creating systems of support for these families. In so doing, we have encountered the layers of injustice that plague our immigration system and that wreak havoc on immigrant communities.
We have learned that in 2017, ICE has detained 37% more people than last year – putting millions of tax dollars toward punishing people like Francisco and Siham, who have built lives for their families here amidst difficult challenges. We have learned that undocumented detainees have no right to counsel, and that in fact, the majority of them have no legal representation. This greatly increases their chance of being deported and places them at risk of being returned to countries of origin, rife with violence. We have watched as people who fled horrific disasters in Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua years – and in some cases, decades – ago under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have been deemed unworthy of protection by this administration (with decisions on Salvadorans and Hondurans also pending). These dynamics have thrust entire communities into whirlwinds of chaos and fear, with immigrants terrified to drive, go to work, or take their children to school.
As we marshal our resources to stand in solidarity with people like Francisco and Siyam, we’re acutely aware that many other immigrants are vulnerable to being targeted by ICE. To address that risk, we joined the coalition of organizations supporting the Safe Communities Act, which, if enacted, would prevent local law enforcement from being deputized to act as ICE agents. The civil liberties protected by this bill are now at risk, with mounting opposition being activated by groups spreading misinformation and sowing fear.
Join us in protecting our immigrant neighbors and contact your legislator to advocate for passage of the Safe Communities act.
As we near the end of a full year in this political reality, we must remind ourselves that this devaluing of human life does not reflect the best of Jewish or American values and must never become our norm. As our community statement declares, along with 42 Jewish communal organizations this past January, “we reject any effort to shut our nation’s doors on the most vulnerable. We recommit ourselves to the work of protecting and advancing the dignity of all human beings and to preventing suffering in this world.”
In this time of darkness, we as a community will continue to defend our democratic values, advocate for fairness and decency, and walk side by side with our immigrant neighbors.