The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. This decision is morally misguided, damaging to American communities, heartless to the 800,000 people who participate in the program, and violates a core Jewish value and lesson from history to welcome the stranger.
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DACA was created to bandage a broken immigration system, made worse by Congress’s inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The program is far from perfect, yet we must ensure that those who participated can remain as productive and beloved members of our communities. After all, the young people who participate in DACA – known as "Dreamers" – are, for all intents and purposes, American.
The United States is the only home many DACA participants have known. Their average age of arrival in the country is six. They have grown up here. Their families and friends are here. They go to school here, work here, serve in the military and other forms of public service, and DACA let them come out of the shadows. They are our friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
Rescinding DACA is painful for those whose futures have been thrown into extreme jeopardy. For Americans who are not themselves Dreamers, including many in the Jewish community, the president’s decision, while not surprising, is both appallingly unjust and bad policy.
Ending DACA betrays the trust of the 800,000 people who joined the program with the goal of coming out of the shadows and contributing to their nation without fear of deportation. By registering and participating in DACA, these individuals put their faith in our government and made an honest attempt to get on the right side of the law with immigration authorities. On Tuesday, President Trump and Attorney General Sessions abused that faith.
Instead of finding a way to fix DACA and our immigration system, they followed a path that has become all too familiar with this administration: touting anti-immigrant rhetoric, promoting deportation, and instilling fear among immigrant communities. Like the pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona and the increased and highly publicized ICE raids and detentions of otherwise law-abiding individuals, ending DACA sends a clear message to immigrants and Latino Americans that they are not welcome. We are here to disagree.
The Reform Jewish Movement has been building an immigrant justice campaign across North America with the goal of defending those fearing deportation. We are responding to this challenge at the local, state, and federal levels.
Our congregations are actively supporting undocumented immigrants and their families with legal and financial support, and some are ready to provide physical sanctuary within congregational facilities. We have worked with local and state officials to promote the value of inclusion and welcoming immigrants. In California, for example, Reform clergy and lay leaders were instrumental in the adoption of the TRUST Act that promoted safe communities and smart immigration enforcement policies. They are now advocating for the California Values Act, SB 54, which would build on that success.
Our California congregations are not alone: synagogues in Washington, D.C., Hampden, Conn., Falls Church, Va., Minneapolis, Minn., Brooklyn, N.Y., Dallas, Texas, and many other communities are also working to follow that most oft-repeated biblical mandate: to welcome the stranger. It is no mystery why. Many Jewish families in North America are not so far removed from our own immigration experience. We recognize our own stories in those of our immigrant neighbors today.
Our tradition is emphatic about the treatment of immigrants. This week, for example, we read in the Torah portion Ki Tavo God’s instructions to the Israelites for life in the promised land: “And you shall enjoy, together with the [family of the] Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Eternal your God has bestowed upon you and your household” (Deuteronomy 26:11). That mandate has been passed down, from generation to generation. It is why, in the 1980s, many of our congregations were proudly part of that era’s sanctuary movement to protect Central American immigrants.
The DACA announcement means we will redouble our efforts and work with a renewed sense of urgency. Targeting children and young people whose primary concerns are getting an education and contributing to their families is unconscionable. Standing with immigrants is part of our DNA as Reform Jews. We are far from alone in our efforts. We are at work with a powerful and diverse interfaith coalition that includes the Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Quakers, Presbyterians, Muslims, Unitarians, Sikhs, Baptists, and so many others.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, we will work side-by-side with the full strength of our congregations and our interfaith partners to urge the administration to revise its position, and push Congress to pass the Dream Act that will protect DACA recipients from deportation and allow them to work legally, once and for all. In our congregations and in the halls of Congress, American Jews and all people of faith have an opportunity and an obligation to speak out and take action in defense of young immigrants.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner is the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism