A delegation of Jewish clergy, led by HIAS and T'ruah, prepares to cross from Mexico into the United States in February 2024. | What I Saw at the U.S.-Mexico Border | HIAS

A delegation of Jewish clergy, led by HIAS and T'ruah, prepares to cross from Mexico into the United States in February 2024. (Justin Hamel for HIAS)

*The following is adapted from an email that Rabbi Lewis Kamrass sent to HIAS supporters on April 15.

I recently had the opportunity to travel from my home in Cincinnati to the U.S.-Mexico border, which I visited as part of a delegation of rabbis and Jewish clergy with HIAS and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. We were there as faith leaders to witness a humanitarian emergency, learn from experts on the ground, and bring the experience back to our communities.

My experience was powerful and eye-opening. The disconnect between the polarizing rhetoric in the national conversation and what I witnessed firsthand was palpable.

One thing was clear from the moment I arrived. This is a crisis that requires a moral voice. It is so much more than just a policy challenge or a political debate. It presents a basic moral question of how our country treats people in a moment of need — whether we offer refuge to people fleeing danger, whether we blame the victims of violence, and whether we help them.

As the national discourse about the border reaches a fever pitch, politicians are using anti-immigrant rhetoric to score political points rather than addressing the actual human needs. The people I met there are far from the criminals they’re so often made out to be. At a detention center, we saw how arbitrary, expensive, and unnecessary it is for our country to detain people while awaiting their asylum hearings. The people we met have done nothing wrong, yet they are jailed. Many of them are being rapidly deported back to their home countries or Mexico before ever getting due process of asylum hearings.

On a visit to two shelters on the Mexican side of the border, we spoke with several women about the extreme danger they fled in their home countries and the hardships they experienced on their journey, including sexual violence, smuggling, and long waits for an asylum appointment. What struck me most was that through everything, they still spoke of their faith, telling us that “all I have is God.”

Their steadfast faith helped carry them through unimaginable hardship. Witnessing that kind of faith is humbling. It awakened a moral clarity within me about what my tradition demands — an unshakeable commitment to universal human dignity. Making that affirmation is simple, but upholding it as a society requires moral conviction, principled leadership, and political will.

We cannot turn away. We can — and must — faithfully come together to shape a world in which all refugees find welcome, safety, and opportunity.

Each day, I remain grateful that the Jewish community has an organization like HIAS providing vital services to refugees and asylum seekers and advocates for their fundamental rights so they can rebuild their lives.

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