Rabbis Visit U.S./Mexico Border, Respond to Crisis

By Sharon Samber, HIAS.org

The day before Americans celebrated their independence, HIAS helped lead a delegation of nearly 40 rabbis and community leaders to the U.S.-Mexico border.

On July 3, HIAS and clergy from T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, joined together in prayer and then boarded a bus to visit the migrant centers Instituto Madre Asunta and Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, which assist asylum seekers, migrants in transit, and other displaced persons. Later, the group crossed back into the U.S. on foot.

At the centers, which help hundreds of people every day, the delegation met with individuals waiting for the chance to enter the United States. Many have to wait at least a month before they can present a plea for asylum at the border. Others wait because of  other processing issues.The centers provide beds, food, medical care, psychosocial services and sometimes even job skills training, particularly to the men who have been deported but are trying to stay close to their families back in the U.S.

“We are seeing so many barriers to accessing legal protection right now in the border region,” explained Liz Sweet, HIAS’ General Counsel, who accompanied the delegation. Both the waiting times and the detention of adults and also children are further undermining the U.S.’ protection system. These actions may deter even those with urgent protection needs.  

With the border fence behind them, several rabbis and leaders broadcast on Facebook their thoughts and feelings.

HIAS’ Education Director Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer denounced the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

“We are in a really devastating moment right now where our asylum system and refugee resettlement program are under constant attack in the United States,” she said. “These policies are just devastating and cruel and they fly in the face of a long American tradition of welcome and thousands of years of Jewish history. So we carry that history across the border with us to say to those on the other side, ‘we want you in our country.’”

There has been an outcry in the Jewish community over the Administration’s efforts to roll back refugee protection in this country, both through the dramatic reduction of refugee resettlement arrivals, as well as through attacks on our asylum system, including recent family separation and detention policies.

Rabbi Grant Meyer addressed those on the other side of the border: “We are committed, as a Jewish people, to making sure that the doors of our country stay open and that you are able to seek safety in our country once again.”

Rabbi Yael Ridberg of Congregation Dor Hadash in San Diego noted that “we are in the middle of a criminalization of immigration” and that our government agencies need to “treat immigrants as human beings.” Ridberg said the trip to the border and meeting with the people in need made her think of part of Psalm 118 which reads “Min hametzar karati ya-- out of the narrowness I called to you and you answered with expansiveness.”

“We pray as rabbis and cantors and as people of good will that our Administration, and our government, and our leaders, and the good people of these United States will be those who make the call for expansiveness in treating the immigrant, the refugee, and the asylum seeker with dignity,” Ridberg said at the border fence.

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