A group of 40 interfaith clergy demonstrated solidarity with separated immigrant families on the U.S.-Mexican border on Thursday.
The rabbis, imams, ministers and priests visited a respite center in McAllen, Texas, despite the torrential rain and flooded roads in the area. Many migrants arrive at this center after an initial immigration hearing, monitored with ankle bracelets.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, was part of the delegation and met with single parents and their children who had arrived from various countries in Central America.
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“They told me they had come from extraordinarily difficult conditions, fleeing violence and just looking for a better life for their kids,” Jacobs told Haaretz via phone from the border.
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The group’s schedule originally included a visit to a processing center in McAllen, where eight of the delegation members were supposed to meet with some of the detainees. However, that was canceled while they were in transit with no explanation given.
Earlier Thursday, the facility was unexpectedly visited by the first lady, Melania Trump, who wanted to “see what’s real,” according to her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham.
Despite signing an executive order Wednesday to halt his controversial family separation policy, President Donald Trump’s decision has left over 2,300 children separated from their parents with no foreseeable unification plans. Some children are as young as 9 months old and being held in “tender-age” shelters.
Speaking at a press conference after their visit to the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center, civil rights activist and Baptist minister Rev. Al Sharpton said it was impossible for him to be a practicing Christian and not look out for refugees.
Beside him stood Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, formerly of the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in northern Virginia, who dubbed the president’s “zero tolerance” policy “insane” and called to hold the “Department of Injustice” accountable. “We are calling out to the modern-day Pharaoh,” he said. “This is an opportunity to turn around.”
The interfaith alliance members then embraced while singing “We Shall Overcome.”
“It’s especially important because [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions has been quoting the Christian Bible to justify this inhumane practice – so it’s crucial to bring a group of faith readers who say: ‘Actually, this is not our Bible, that is not our tradition,” Jacobs explained.
While the Trump administration insists these measures are necessary for the safety and security of the country, and that all immigration at the border is illegal, the interfaith partners discovered that many of the migrants have different stories to tell.
“Just met a woman from Nicaragua traveling with her 2-yr-old and 6-yr-old children, fleeing civil war there. She's trying to get to family in San Francisco. She's wearing an ankle bracelet,” Jacobs tweeted to her tens of thousands of followers.
Over the phone, she recounted the story of one of the fathers she had met, who had immigrated from Honduras. “He heard about the separation of children while in Mexico, but decided to come because he thought that was their only chance for safety. When I asked him if he was scared, he said that of course he was,” said Jacobs.
One of the delegation’s goals – to bring more people of faith to the border and get them to report back to their communities – seems to be working. In fact, the response has been so strong that the Catholic Charities center in McAllen, which receives up to 200 people every day, asked activists to stop sending supplies as it is currently overwhelmed.
Jacobs said they do not intend to stop here and are planning future delegations of rabbis to the border.