Tag Archives: refugees/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

JCRC Joins JCPA In Urging Israel to Suspend Plan to Deport Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum-Seekers

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston echoes and shares the sentiments expressed by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the national network of JCRCs, in this statement today. We join the JCPA in urging Israel to suspend the plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers:

New York, NY – In response to the Government of Israel’s recent announcement that there are plans underway to deport the approximately 35,000 – 40,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers living in Israel to several African governments, including Uganda and Rwanda, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) issued the following statement:

“JCPA recognizes Israel’s distinguished record of opening its doors to non-Jewish victims of genocide and human rights abuses, as it did with the Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970s, and those from the Balkans decades later. JCPA fully acknowledges Israel’s security concerns, and commends Israel’s efforts to secure its borders, which has significantly reduced rampant human trafficking and unauthorized immigration.  We urge the Government of Israel to balance such concerns with its historic commitment to welcoming the stranger and protecting refugees.

“We urge the government to suspend its plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who entered the country between 2007-12, and develop a comprehensive policy for non-Jewish asylum-seekers that safeguards human dignity and human rights, in compliance with Israel’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. We believe that such a policy would ensure Israel’s security, and honor Israel’s values as a compassionate, Jewish and democratic state.

“We ask that a refugee and asylum policy include a transparent and efficient system for processing asylum applications so that claims are resolved in a fair and timely manner. Applicants should receive a temporary status that ensures basic safety, stability, and dignity, including the ability to work legally and gainfully. The government should establish minimum standard for education, health, and welfare services. We also request that any resettlement to third countries should only involve those nations where asylum-seekers will be treated with dignity and guaranteed status and safety pursuant to international conventions.”

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