Volume V | January 2021
Your JAIJ news & updates

We know the words coming from the White House will be much kinder under Biden—and that that is good. Very good.
But we also know we must still be vigilant. 

As one article in The Conversation reminds us, there is a “long, bipartisan history of dealing with immigrants harshly. We cannot be like those who during the holocaust said, “We did not know.” We must make sure we do know, and that we speak out loudly when we see an injustice, even under a “kinder and gentler” administration.  

So, as we look toward the inauguration and after, we worry and we wonder:

Under a Biden/Harris administration, who will be protected and welcomed?
Will they continue to distinguish between “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants?” Dreamers who are innocent but their parents who are guilty?
Will there be compassion for those who are fleeing persecution but not for those fleeing hunger and poverty—as many previous generations of immigrants did—or fleeing the ravaging effects of climate change?
Will Biden make bargains like Obama—and Reagan—did: offering a path to citizenship for some, in exchange for further militarizing our borders? 
As we think about all the losses from the pandemic in the past year and in the year to come, we wonder and we worry:
Will the new administration prioritize, or will they forget about, those in jails and detention centers who have no way of maintaining social distance?
As they fight to get Congressional support for another stimulus package, will Biden and Harris remember the millions of workers who are both essential and undocumented--who so far have been left out of any economic support from the government?
Will the Biden/Harris administration ensure that everyone gets COVID vaccinations—and that states cannot exclude undocumented workers, as the Governor of Nebraska is currently doing. 
And always, always, we wonder and we worry about the children:
 Will the Biden/Harris administration not just talk, but make it a priority to find the parents of the at least 628 children (separated from their families) who have not yet been reunified? What resources will they put into this? What experts and organizations will they turn to?
 Can we be sure that under the new administration, no children will be separated from their loved ones, put into detention, “stored in hotel rooms,” or deported back to countries whose violence they fled (or worse, countries where they have no connection)?
 Will Biden allow those who have been living in sanctuary in churches—some for more than 3 years now—to return home to their families, to their children, without worry about being taken by ICE and detained or deported?
As we remember those we met in the now-even-more-dangerous border camp in Matamoros, Mexico, trying to maintain their dignity and resilience, their health and their lives, we worry and we wonder:
Will Biden decide that it is too difficult and politically risky to immediately end MPP/the Migrant “Protection” Protocols—as he has sometimes promised and sometimes not promised? Will he allow those individuals and families who have been waiting months or years on the border to live in the US while their petition for asylum is in process?
Will Biden start closing all ICE detention centers, beginning immediately with the most egregious ones (like ones where medical abuse has been documented) as demanded by immigrant advocacy organizations?
We must keep listening, watching, witnessing. Even while our hearts and bodies long to relax after the relentless hatred of the last four years, we cannot afford to be complacent or to close our eyes to what is happening. We expect kinder words. Can we also expect policies and practices that respect the human rights of all those who live in our communities or who seek to find safety within our borders? As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” We must not shut our eyes to abuses, however painful—or however hidden by kind words. 

We must witness, we must listen to those most impacted, and we must respond. 
As we move into the Biden administration, driven by the hope of the promises Biden made in his immigration platform, we need to stay focused, effective and strategic. We need to make sure that Biden follows through in transforming the asylum process so that people coming to our border receive fair due process and are allowed to be in the U.S. when their cases are adjudicated. We also need to make sure that the immigrants who have been here for years contributing to their communities, raising their families, and paying taxes are not suddenly faced with arbitrary deportation, and instead, are offered a pathway to citizenship. 
We will be advocating for all of the following, with campaigns that sometimes focus on all these necessary changes and at other times focus on one area as policies and legislation develop. Our goal is to follow immigrant leaders, amplify the work of national immigrant justice organizations, and be as effective as possible in our advocacy.
  • End MPP (Remain in Mexico Program) and create a humanitarian asylum policy that protects and meets the needs of people crossing the border, which allows them to enter the country, apply for asylum, quarantine if necessary for COVID safety, and wait for their asylum hearings with sponsors or family if they have these, or in shelters run by social service organizations. We need to immediately end the practice of “expelling” children and families without any kind of legal process or hearing, using the virus as an excuse.
  • Broaden the allowed conditions under which asylum may be granted to include “climate refugees, and victims of gang and domestic violence as well as religious or political persecution.
  • Allocate whatever resources are necessary to reunite the families that are still separated after the “zero tolerance policy” that tore families apart starting in 2017.
  • End child and family detention and close immigrant detention centers, beginning with those with a history of the worst human rights and medical abuses.
  • End deportations and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented U.S. residents.

As our small affinity group, Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice (JAIJ), enters our third year of advocacy for asylum seekers and immigrants, we are fueled and moved forward by our memory of the brave and resilient people we met or observed in our trips to the Homestead, Florida, Child Detention Center in June of 2019 (closed later that summer due to public pressure) and to the MPP migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, in Feb of 2020. In the current climate of hope and trepidation about what the new administration will do, we are trying to determine the best kinds of tactics for pressure and influence.   

There is always, of course, a wide range of approaches and strategies in any social justice movement, ranging from street demonstrations to academic policy analysis, such as the reports generated by the Migrant Policy Institute. And even along a spectrum where there is general agreement on goals, there are differences in tone and tactics. How much leeway do we give the new administration in assuming they will do the right thing for immigrants and asylum-seekers, and how much do we need to constantly push them, especially as some of Biden’s appointments in this policy area are receiving mixed reviews?

While this may have been chutzpah, we decided it would be worth trying to find out for ourselves how serious the administration was about keeping their promises. Using the official Transition Team meeting request form, in November, JAIJ requested two meetings with members of the Biden Transition Team. For one meeting, we requested to bring in members of several groups working on the border, and for the other, several prominent members of the Jewish community. As of press time, we've not heard back from them--but we do know that other more established organizations in the Jewish community and sanctuary support community have been granted meetings. And while we are disappointed that many of Biden’s picks for Cabinet posts were not more progressive, we feel hopeful with the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. If confirmed, Mayorkas, the child of Cuban-Jewish refugees and a former Board member of HIAS (The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), would be the first member of the Latinx community in this position. 

The American Immigrant Lawyers Association is one of many immigrant-justice organizations that is enthusiastic about the Mayorkas appointment. Many were pleased that Mayorkas, on accepting the nomination said, “When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.” However, it’s not clear whether he would be able or willing to act quickly to solve the border crisis, as Biden himself now seems to be walking back on his promise

Whatever our tactics, all of us in the immigration justice community must remain vigilant in assuring that we go beyond reinstating DACA to achieving true justice for immigrants and asylum-seekers. 
And we at JAIJ believe that there’s an important role for all kinds of advocacy and information-sharing groups. Some are willing to put their bodies on the front lines and demand to change the untenable current situation immigrants face. Others focus on policy or work the long and slow legislative angle. Because our goal is to amplify all of their work, we continue to research and share a wide range of relevant media coverage and advocacy actions and recommendations with our communities and networks. 

We will continue to pressure the Biden government to keep its promises on immigration. We understand that some will take time, but we and our partner organizations will work hard to keep these issues in the spotlight and not let them wither away for lack of attention, emphasizing the importance of acting as soon as possible. Most recently, we decided to endorse a recent press release from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a member organization of the network of advocacy groups Detention Watch Network, which calls out President-elect Biden for remarks he made in December when he expressed worry that if the asylum process changes too rapidly our borders will be overrun by new waves of migrants. The press release is titled "Take it back. Start over. And this time, lead with courage not fear…" and reminds us of the anti-immigrant policies of the Obama-Biden administration, promising opposition if the president-elect returns to those policies. While we might have used a less confrontive tone, we feel the points raised are quite valid and we are doing our part to amplify them.
As we witness unprecedented violence and terrorism that is likely to target immigrants along with all people of color, we can take some small comfort in the words of John Paul Lederach, who after the recent mob rioting at the Capitol, urges us in the newsletter, On Being, to heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Hope requires patience and persistence precisely becausethe arc of the moral universe is long,” even as “it bends toward justice.” And that “while the past carries forward profound violations of dignity and the present continues to humiliate and divide, our future is shared, necessitating the commitment to nonviolence and appreciation for our ultimate interdependence.” 

Lederach continues, “Calling this out in his “I Have a Dream” speech, King noted that across racial divides “their freedom is inextricably bound with our freedom” followed by the shortest single sentence in the speech: We cannot walk alone.” Lederach reminds us: “Act on and walk into what you know to be true. Start local. Reach out beyond your comfort zone. Commit to nonviolence. Always protect the dignity of others. Walk together. In this the stone of hope is hewn.”

While it’s important to keep Biden’s “feet to the fire” in achieving an end to deportations and detention, and opening pathways to asylum and citizenship for immigrants and refugees, we recognize the difficulty of this task for the new administration. Many of the cruel and racist policies and protocols set by the Trump administration under the leadership of Stephen Miller will be difficult to undo quickly, as this article explains. But the separation of children from their families as part of the 2018 zero tolerance policy remains one of the most egregious acts of the administration. 
According to The Guardian, The government has admitted to having inadequate tracking systems and has resisted disclosing its information, but records suggest that more than 5,500 children were separated since 2017. Hundreds were under the age of five, including some who were infants and toddlers.” 

Though this policy was, (in theory) suspended; there are still 628 children that have not been reunited with their families. We need to press for these children to be reunited as quickly as possible. We also need to address the lasting trauma of all the families who were separated and offer these families reparations and a pathway to citizenship.

Free the Children lays out the four most important actions Biden should take to try to minimize this harm to children going forward: 1) prioritize family reunification, 2) ensure that children’s development is a priority at the U.S.-Mexico border, 3) improve care and appropriate custody of children, and 4) ensure access to social safety nets for immigrant children and families. We strongly endorse these recommendations.

Even more disturbing, a recently released report confirms what many of us suspected all along: The administration knew their zero tolerance policy would lead to unlawful family separations and they deliberately lied to the American people about its effects. Now Senator Jeff Merkley is calling for the architects of this policy to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. We support his call to action. 

The Biden administration and your Senators/Representatives in Congress need to hear from you about these issues. Once Biden has been inaugurated, you can leave a comment on the White House phone line at 202-456-1111 (or write to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20500) You can also call attention to this issue by posting on Twitter and Facebook and tagging @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. The number for the Congressional Switchboard is 202-224-3121. Tell them to prosecute the officials in the Trump administration who developed and lied about the zero-tolerance policy, immediately reunite the separated children from their families, and allow families traumatized from the Trump administration’s policies a chance to live here in the U.S. as reparation for past wrongs. 

You can also consider giving donations to some of the organizations helping to reunite immigrant families: ACLU, Al Otro Lado, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and RAICES.

Speak up, speak out! 
It has been a year of relentless opportunities to work to bend the arc of history towards justice. Our activist colleagues in New Hampshire, whose group is called What’s Next?, have designed a postcard campaign to lobby officials on specific immigration issues. The goal is to deluge specific officials with specific demands for policy. There are 5 more postcards planned to go out, the next between 1/19 and 1/21 and the final one between 3/16 and 3/19. Some folks have already picked up cards #2 through 4; #5 through 7 will soon be available. 

Here’s how it works. 
You will make a commitment to send out 4 postcards every 2 weeks, over the next 9 weeks (5 sets of 4 postcards, 20 total).
Each set will focus on a specific immigration theme.
The next is The World is Watching. You will write a message (possible comments provided) and address each postcard to one of 4 officials (a list will be provided).
A link here from the New Hampshire organizers provides details about this postcard (message, recipients). The goal is to inundate specific officials with the message. 
It will go out between 1/19 and 1/22, and the final postcard will go out between March 16 and 19th. There is also a facebook page “What’s Next?that will have on-going details.. 

There are 3 ways to participate: 
1) Pick up the printed cards (with or without the necessary postage), contactless, from Marta Lev’s porch in Florence. The cost of the 5 sets of 4 postcards alone will be about $4 (you provide postcard stamps) or about $6 (stamps provided). There is an image printed on one side, the other will have the address and message. (Some folks have already picked up postcards #2--4; the cost is less for just #5-7). 

2) Request that the postcards be mailed to you. This would add about $1 to the cost, and, depending upon where you receive them, a day or two for mailing.
3) You may print the cards yourself, at home on your printer, and participate completely remotely! The information on printing is in this link. 

The form to sign up is here and please email Marta Lev directly with any questions! (levmartam@gmail.com)

"Complaint of the Rio Grande"
by Richard Blanco