AN IMPORTANT LETTER FROM THE RABBIS OF EL PASO, TEXAS
With which I fully agree.
December 13, 2018
Dearest Friends and Colleagues:
We write to you from the Texas border city of El Paso, Texas to express our concern for the stranger and the sojourner. Our moral responsibility, individually and collectively, calls upon us to carefully consider the situation of the United States’ immigration/asylum system(s), especially with regards to the detention of migrant children in our neighboring city of Tornillo, Texas.
We are distressed that there are many from around the country who look at our region from afar and seek to use the Tornillo camp as a lightening rod for protest, anger and rhetoric. Their efforts, while well intentioned, seem to us to lack the broader thoughtfulness and self-awareness that our tradition would require of us when we seek to confront an injustice. Here in El Paso, we are keenly aware that the treatment of the stranger has been inhumane and antithetical to Jewish and American values for a very long time.
Aware that there is a desire amongst many of us to see the Tornillo camp closed as quickly as possible, we are fearful that much of the horrifying reality migrants face in our immigration system is being missed. Immigrants are approaching the border and, despite the law, are being turned away. Families with children are being held in ICE holding cells for weeks at a time, only to be dropped off on the street and left to fend for themselves. Almost 15,000 lone migrant children are being detained around the country for periods that far exceed safe or reasonable despite the physical care that they might be receiving.
What seems clear, regardless of where we fall on the American political spectrum, is that we are currently looking at the downward spiral of a broken system which is incapable of handling the needs of modern migration. This brokenness is leading to unnecessary trauma, suffering and disturbing injustice. The lack of efficiency and effectiveness of the current model is hurting people (including children) where it could be healing.
The existence of camps like those in Tornillo, Texas (over 2000 children currently detained) and Homestead, Florida (around 1300 children currently detained) is indicative of a broken system. A system which, if not fixed, will only require more such “band-aids” with questionable transparency and limited resources. So, here in El Paso we are confused by efforts to “shut down Tornillo,” which do not seem to advocate for a more strategic approach to re-ordering our immigration system. These efforts may gain brief victory, but only ensure such camps re-open under similar circumstances and without sufficient regulation, oversight or transparency. We are concerned that Tornillo will be shut down, only to find some similar “last-minute need” in the days or weeks ahead that leads to a repeat of injustices which violate all we hold dear.
We seek to remind you that closing Tornillo and Homestead should be the result of efforts and changes which will keep such camps closed forever. What is needed is the ordering of an immigration system which can handle with dignity and humanity each child who approaches our border in need, every asylum seeker or refugee who looks to our country with hope. This system should decide who gets citizenship and who does not with fairness, equality, compassion, efficiency and expediency. That is a system which can handle the waxes and wanes of modern migration without finding itself in crisis and sacrificing norms or regulations to detain children.
Our Judaism inspires us to see all that our country is capable of. We are keenly aware that we live in one of the greatest and most prosperous countries on earth. We are therefore morally obligated to show dignity and care to those we exert power over. We are aware of the trauma that occurs while children sit and wait to learn of their fate. Drawing out that process needlessly for even an hour is a cruelty which violates our core ethics and flies in the face of our moral obligations.
We encourage those from outside our region to stop treating Tornillo as the sole problem in our immigration system. While many are aware that Tornillo is a symptom, such simple, single-minded advocacy blinds many to the real injustices human beings are facing. If blind advocacy against Tornillo is purposeful, that is geneivat daat (purposeful deception).
We call upon all people to exercise moral leadership, thoughtfulness, intelligence and compassion in the conversation about how we handle immigration and migration in our country. We urge our political leadership to create a strong, transparent and just immigration system which can manage the modern realities our country faces on the border.
We believe in our country and remain optimistic that thoughtful changes to our immigration policies can enhance America’s economic, intellectual and societal strength while treating human beings with dignity and sanctity. We believe a system to handle immigration which can adapt to the realities faced by those in other countries is possible. We believe there are ways for us to work together to solve the problems of our generation in ways which will encourage our children to reflect positively on our righteousness and compassion. And we encourage all of our fellow clergy, Jews and Americans to believe with us.
Until such time that our overall system is improved, if you would like to help us work with those who are providing direct services to asylum seekers (including those being dropped off by ICE on the streets of El Paso), we have included a list of these organizations with this letter.
Rabbi Ben Zeidman, El Paso, Texas, Member: Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Scott Rosenberg, El Paso, Texas, Member: Rabbinic Assembly
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
You can help Las Americas who is providing direct legal services to the asylum-seekers.
You can help Annunciation House who provides refuge and hospitality to migrants.
Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services
You can help DMRS who is providing direct legal services to immigrant children.
Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee
You can help the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee who is helping pay immigration bonds that release migrants from detention.