Tag Archives: Immigrants

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.”

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.”

August 9, 2019

NAHMA NADICH

A message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich:

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.” I heard these prescient words from Lucia Panichella of Jewish Family Service Metrowest in an orientation session for a CJP Women’s Philanthropy Mission to San Diego. The mission’s purpose was to learn about and volunteer in local Jewish community efforts to support newly arrived immigrants. During the orientation, my fellow travelers and I were advised on what to expect and how best to serve these traumatized and presumably compromised people. After spending this past weekend with them, we now appreciate the truth of Lucia’s words.

Standing with immigrants at risk is not new for us. In January 2017, in response to what we regarded at the time as draconian Executive Orders targeting immigrants and refugees, we issued a communal joint statement signed by many Boston-area synagogues and Jewish organizations. We urged the administration to “open the gates of compassion to those seeking safety, regardless of their faith or country of origin.” And we publicly committed ourselves to the “work of protecting and advancing the dignity of all human beings and to preventing suffering...” JCRC and CJP have taken our 2017 commitments seriously, devoting time, resources, and energy to develop a range of responses to the emerging crisis (see box on right).

But you know how this story unfolded. The gates of compassion have remained shut tight, and suffering has been inflicted on our foreign-born neighbors in ways we never could have anticipated. Family separations. Children in cages. Detention centers with reprehensible conditions. Hate speech that strips people of their basic humanity, and this week, the largest massacre aimed at the Latino community, reportedly motivated by that rhetoric. And just yesterday — the largest immigration raid in over a decade, with 680 low-wage workers taken from food processing plants, leaving their crying children waiting to be picked up from school.

So, we headed to the border town of San Diego to learn and to act. This mighty group of 25 women — volunteers and staff from CJP, JCRC, and Jewish Family Service Metrowest — first met with legal and social service experts in the field. What we learned from the experts confirmed recent news reports; the ever-growing numbers of children separated from their families now younger and more frequently female, the devastating impact of the so called “Migrant Protection Program,” requiring immigrants fleeing the danger of their home countries to remain in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings. The lawyer who spoke with our group characterized this as a violation of international treaties that the US has signed, since there is no longer any viable way to apply for asylum from certain countries. The vise is tightening on immigrants seeking a pathway to safety and freedom.

Yet with all the invaluable information we learned from professionals in the field, our most profound learning came from encounters with the immigrants themselves at the Jewish Family Service Shelter of San Diego.

Since 2017…

JCRC harnessed the passion of our community to create an interfaith coalition, engaging people to provide support to undocumented immigrants seeking Sanctuary in churches, accompany immigrants to court hearings, provide legal services, raise funds to bond people out of detention and most recently, to house individuals and families post-detention.

CJP established a Legal Aid Fund for Immigrants in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, enabling the agency to double the size of their legal team for refugees and immigrants who have a legal path to citizenship. And in response to the crisis of family separation, CJP collaborated with the The Young Center and the Interfaith Welcome Coalition to launch a Fund for Detained Children, with the mission of providing advocacy and legal support for children in detention.

This Jewish community responded to the border crisis with breathtaking generosity, joining with others to open a shelter for immigrants newly released from detention and on their way to reunions with family throughout the country. Now in its sixth location (an old court house slated for demolition), the shelter has served 15,000 individuals since 2018. Staffed by a highly competent and deeply compassionate staff, this is a facility that operates in an astonishingly nimble way, never knowing how many people they will house (anywhere from 50-200), what languages they’ll speak, or what unique challenges they’ll present. All who enter are greeted with love, fed hot food, given medical attention, supported in contacting their relatives, and prepared for travel. The institutional setting is camouflaged by an array of colorful artwork and decorations.

We did our part — sorting donated clothes, painting walls, sanitizing toys, and serving food. And in three short days, we gained a deeper understanding about who these travelers were, the challenges they face, and the unimaginable resilience they exhibit throughout.

During our orientation at the shelter we asked the staff, “What happens when someone departing here misses a connection and doesn’t make it to their destination?” The staff member paused to think before responding, “It hasn’t happened yet.” We realized that these people, with their seemingly infinite wells of courage and resourcefulness, had already endured grueling hardship and navigated their way to this shelter to provide safety for their families. Traveling hours and sometimes days, on multiple buses, in a country where they don’t speak the language, would not stop them now.

Observing these guests (how they are known at the shelter) inspired endless admiration. The ubiquitous ankle monitors on the adults were cruel reminders that our country has criminalized these people for doing what any parent would do: preserve their children’s lives. In acts of fierce and quiet resistance, they retained their dignity in the face of attempts to dehumanize them and their families.

One mother cradled her 15-day-old infant in her arms as she tended lovingly to her four older children, each expertly coiffed and groomed. Her children —as so many others we met — were sweet, friendly, joyful, and exuberant. At their parents’ gentle prodding, they came up to us after every meal and smilingly thanked us (in English!) for the food.

Despite their insurmountable hardships, these determined parents were acting with agency whenever and wherever they could, not just ensuring their children’s safety, but raising them with values passed down through generations. As a result, their children, against all odds, were playful and trusting—by the end, sitting on our laps, playing games and reading books, and transcending any language barrier among us.

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Lucia was so right. We left in amazement at the strength of the people we met. We were reminded that kindness and compassion do in fact exist, and that they are powerful antidotes to cruelty and abuse. We were filled with pride seeing a Jewish community do the impossible; taking a leap of faith to address a crisis of epic proportions, with no road map and no real plan. We saw this community change people’s lives and were privileged to be part of the story—as we are now inspired to take further action here in Boston.

There are immigrants right here in Boston fighting to stay with their families who have reached out for support. Volunteer to accompany them to court. Be part of a housing network to welcome them when they are released from detention. Advocate for passage of the Work and Family Mobility Act, allowing access to drivers licenses regardless of immigration status and the Safe Communities Act, supporting the civil liberties of all people in the Commonwealth.

Click here to receive action alerts on these opportunities.

Heed the words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging on the walls of the shelter:

Si ayudo a una sola persona a tener esperanza, no habré vido en vano.

If I help only one person to have hope, I won’t have lived in vain.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

Stories we still cannot tell

Almost every family in America has an immigration story, a place we came from; often fleeing persecution, war, famine or poverty. This coming Tuesday, April 2, will mark the 100th anniversary of my own grandfather, Jose Sandoval, arriving in this country as a child refugee from Mexico. Growing up, he told me stories of what it was like to flee the turmoil of a revolution with his parents and older siblings to start over and build a life as a proud American.

I’ve previously described the work of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN – pronounced ‘beyond’). We helped create BIJAN to support T and other immigrants detained in MA who are reaching out to us for support. This multi-faith coalition accompanies our immigrant neighbors to their court hearings, connects them to legal support, bonds them out of detention and remains connected post release. Over the past 14 months we have helped bond 64 people out of detention; immigrants fleeing danger from all over the world. Once they are released, they travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, to reunite with families they were seeking to find, when they started out on their perilous journeys.

Some of that support happens in quiet moments of simple, empathic human contact. JCRC staff member Solon Arguello is part of a cohort of volunteers who make sure that immigrants who we succeed in bonding out make it safely back to their families.  Several weeks ago, he went to South Station to meet T, originally from Guatemala, who was driven there by volunteers following his release. T felt comfortable telling Solon about his life before detention, what motivated him to come to this country and how he ended up detained. He shared his dreams: working and providing the funds necessary for his daughter to have a better life than he has had, and living in safety, away from the volatility of his town in Guatemala.

T is far from alone in enduring unbearable hardship as he seeks safety for himself and his family. Each year, hundreds of immigrants seeking refuge are detained here in Massachusetts city jails that rent beds to ICE. Many have lived here for decades.

Our Jewish community has responded to their calls for support with astonishing generosity and compassion. Hundreds of community members, from 20 synagogues and beyond, have stretched themselves beyond what we – and they – would have anticipated at the outset of this work, by opening their hearts and homes, donating funds, providing transportation and more. They run the gamut from college students to people in their 90s. All of them have stepped up to accompany our neighbors as they navigate the chaos and cruelty of immigration enforcement and detention. Individuals and families host people released from detention with no place else to go, sometimes for months at a time.

The border is right here in Boston, with a port of entry at Logan Airport. And, just as we did on a CJP mission to the southern border and San Antonio last summer, young students at Temple Shalom in Newton, moved by what they learned about the plight of immigrants, stuffed backpacks with socks, snacks, t-shirts, toothbrushes and toothpaste and loose change to accompany newly released immigrants for the long, lonely bus rides back to family. Sitting atop each pile of bare necessities inside each pack was a card lovingly penned by a Hebrew school student: “Buena suerte,” one said. “… know that we want you here!” reads another.

Beginning almost two years ago, with the formation of Sanctuary networks supporting churches in several communities hosting undocumented immigrants (necessitating 24-7 coverage of volunteer companions) there seems to be no task too onerous, no request too audacious for our extraordinary companions and volunteers.

At JCRC, we continue to be both gravely concerned by the impossible odds facing immigrants – and profoundly inspired by the commitment of our community to take action. We invite you to be a part of our efforts. Advocate with us for the passage of H.3102/S.2601 The Work and Family Mobility Act, filed by Representative Farley-Bouvier and Senator Crighton, to keep hard working people like T from being targeted for deportation while driving to work and H.3573/S.1401 The Safe Communities Act, filed by Representative Balser and Senator Eldridge, to ensure that the Civil Rights of all people are protected.

This week and every week I honor my memories of Grandpa Joe by continuing the work of ensuring that the promise of America remains available to those who are fleeing the persecutions and turmoils of our world. If you have family who came here at some point to get away from somewhere else and to participate in the American Dream, I hope that you will join us in ensuring that this country does not close our doors to those who renew our society in every generation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

A Shabbat To Protest

With the increasing frequency of Saturday rallies and gatherings responding to current events I’ve been thinking a bit of late about JCRC’s “Shabbat policy.” Though it’s rarely discussed, our practice is not to sponsor or participate as JCRC in programs – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. While we recognize and affirm that Jews have a wide range of Shabbat observances (including none at all), as a broad umbrella of our community, we believe we have a responsibility not to hold programming that would exclude participation from any part of our community. So while many, if not most of us, might attend a certain rally on Shabbat, some would not, and we as an organization do not.

This same principle guides our practice of “strict” kashrut for all our events – we never want a member of our community to be excluded in our space because of their observance practice.

As a community relations organization, this comes up with some regularity in our interfaith work, with Saturday often being the most convenient day for our partners to do an event. We’re just candid about the fact that an event on our Shabbat would exclude parts of our community. At times, that means that we miss out on certain things. The first anniversary of the Marathon Bombing fell on a holy day of Passover; we had no expectation that the city would commemorate it on any day other than the actual day. We communicated our regret over Jewish communal absence, which was recognized and honored.

In many cases, when there is an urgent need to stand with other communities as one united collective, we find another way. One example was last summer, in the days after Charlottesville. We knew that a massive mobilization was planned for Boston the following Saturday, in response to an anticipated local far-right rally. It wasn’t going to be moved – that was the day these folks had a permit. But many, including Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, and our closest partners in the Christian and Muslim communities, were asking for some way we could all stand together as faith communities. Our response – under the umbrella of The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization – was a Friday evening program at Temple Israel in Boston. It was deliberately held early enough so that those who didn’t drive on Shabbat could reasonably get home to nearby suburbs; and Muslims too could get to Friday evening prayer before sundown. This powerful public gathering was our way of providing an expression for our solidarity, while holding true to principles we all shared about inclusion.

But with all the rallies and protests this past 18 months, this “organize a new event” approach just isn’t feasible every single time that there is a new reason to mobilize. And so we look to another aspect of our Shabbat policy, our desire to honor and lift up the Shabbat practices of the diverse individual parts of our community.

While we never sponsor or endorse Saturday rallies, we want to lift up and honor the efforts of those of our members who do. And we want to make known that there are options for members of the Jewish community who want to participate in this public activity as Jews. Because another guiding principle of ours is that it isn’t all about JCRC. We’re a network – 43 organizations, a dozen community partners, some 130 synagogues. Showing up in public space is not about any single organization – including JCRC. It’s about our entire community, in all of our diversity, participating in our democracy in ways that each of us feels called to do, and in concert with our Jewish values and practice.

So this Saturday - when so many of us are outraged over family separation and travel bans and are horrified by our government’s  dehumanization of asylum seekers and refugees –as rallies are being organized across the country, JCRC is not sponsoring any event, including this one at Boston City Hall that is being co-hosted by our close and valued partner, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

But we want you to know that many of our members are. So, if you feel compelled to be there, if you feel that this is what this Shabbat requires of you, you’ll see some of our members, including the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Workmen’s Circle. You might also consider joining Temple Israel Boston for Shabbat service, Torah study and the rally, or Congregation Dorshei Tzedek for a brief Shabbat service at the Make Way for Ducklings Sculpture, on Boston Common, before walking to City Hall Plaza. And while my personal practice of Shabbat means I won’t be there, you will probably see some of the JCRC team on the Common.

Whatever your practice entails, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom.

p.s. I’m headed to Israel next week and will be taking the next two weeks off from this blog. I look forward to sharing some reflections from my trip when I return.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Stories We Cannot Tell

This post has been updated to reflect the latest realities of the work.

Every Shabbat in my congregation, we say a prayer for the government of the United States. Our version of this prayer asks that “God, who commanded all humanity to create just governments, bless and protect the elected and appointed officials of the United States,” and inspire them, among other things, to “let their actions reflect compassion for the poor, the defenseless, and the needy amongst us.”

These days, when I pray these words, I think about people like Armando Rojas, the beloved custodian of congregation Bet Torah in Westchester, NY. Armando worked there for 20 of his 30 years in this country before being detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Despite the congregation’s advocacy efforts on his behalf, Armando was deported to Mexico without a chance to gather his belongings or even say goodbye to his wife and young children. He was left at the border with no money, cell phone, or ID.

My prayer is filled with disappointment and anger toward our government. Because Armando’s story, and the stories of so many families these days – torn apart, some with children still in their infancy – should challenge us: Do these actions reflect who we aspire to be as Americans? Is this our compassion? And, bound by the injunction for the Jewish people to treat strangers as we would treat ourselves – and knowing that prayer is not enough in this moment – I ask: what actions are we called to?

As the targeting and harassment of immigrants in our communities escalated over the past 18 months, the stakes are now astronomical for families facing impossible choices. They want the same things that we all want for our own: safety and security for themselves and their children, the possibility of a brighter future, the opportunity to contribute to our community (as many have for decades), and the assurance that they will not be sent back to countries from which many of them fled in fear for their lives.

And ever-growing numbers of these people are living in terror right here in Massachusetts – terror of being detained, deported, and separated from children who, in many cases, were born in this country and have never lived anywhere else.

I want to share a vignette to put a human face on the work we’re doing right here in Greater Boston, but the risk in doing so is too great for our immigrant neighbors whose stories we’ve learned. They are so vulnerable to this cruel and unpredictable system of enforcement that we dare not share any details that could put them in peril. But I can tell you about the ways in which members of our Jewish community – alongside our interfaith partners in a new coalition called the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN) – are taking action in solidarity with the people who are being affected, and to accompany these individuals on a journey that is terrifying and lonely.

For families who have sought Sanctuary in churches in Cambridge, Jamaica Plain, Newton, and elsewhere, we’ve mobilized 18 local Jewish congregations with hundreds of volunteers joining networks of support to provide round-the-clock companions, childcare, and resources to meet the families’ various needs. People held in detention have reached out to our coalition, which has responded by organizing a grassroots network of 700 volunteers, supporting over 150 detainees. BIJAN community members have attended 150 immigration hearings, provided pro bono legal counsel in 12 cases, and trained and mentored non-immigration lawyers to represent these individuals. Together with BIJAN, we’ve raised over $80,000 to bond 26 people out of detention, with ongoing fundraising campaigns to free more detainees.

There is no telling for how long these families – struggling to stay together and live in safety and dignity – will have to endure this ordeal. But our actions, together with other faith and immigrant communities, are helping some families to remain together; whether in churches providing safe havens, or freed from detention and given a shot at pursuing legal cases, or awarded asylum to stay in our country. When our volunteers show up our foreign-born neighbors are less alone in dealing with a frightening situation.

I invite you to learn more about our work and consider joining our efforts, through Sanctuary, accompaniment work, legal support, or contributing to bond funds. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of individuals and families here in Massachusetts as we take action to reclaim the compassion that is missing from our government.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Keeping Families Together

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.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Four Questions, Four Actions

Click here to download our Seder Supplement for 2017/5777, featuring action items and Boston-specific stories about immigrants and refugees.

 

With Passover just over a week away, and many of us already deep into preparations, I ask you to pause with me for just a moment, as we acknowledge some remarkable community-wide efforts addressing issues deeply resonant of themes of the Festival of Freedom.

As you may have read in today’s Boston Globe, CJP - Combined Jewish Philanthropies is teaming up with Catholic Charities of Boston to fund legal services for immigrants in a powerful display of interfaith cooperation in this challenging time. I’m particularly proud that JCRC Board President Adam Suttin is taking the lead amongst donors to the fund. As Adam says in this Boston Globe piece today: "He sees aiding today’s newcomers as a matter of “basic human rights, civil rights, and Jewish values.”

“We were once strangers in this land,” he said. “We have to remember that and provide opportunities for others to enjoy the benefits of this country.”

This new fund is the latest action step in a multi-pronged collective agenda in which our local Jewish community is standing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees. I’m delighted to share more about our actions – those we’ve taken so far, and those we invite you to join us on in the future – which are featured in JCRC’s Seder Supplement for 2017/5777: Standing with Immigrants and Refugees (PDF).

We are very proud to be distributing this in partnership with ADL New England, JALSA, Jewish Family Service and JVS.

But how is this Seder Supplement different from all others, you may ask?

This one is specifically about – and for – Boston’s Jewish community.

  • You will read stories that should be roundly and proudly shared, of the actions that Jewish organizations and synagogues members are taking to support and act in solidarity with our foreign born neighbors.
  • You will also read about the profound way in which these issues resonate with our own experience and history as Jews, including the seldom told story of how many of our people found safety in this country, even without legal access or documentation.
  • Finally, and most important, you will learn how you can take critical action now, to breathe new life into our age old commitment to freedom for all people.

Wishing you a joyous and meaningful Passover!

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy