NEW YORK — Rabbi Linda Holtzman was horrified — to say the least — when she heard about President Donald Trump’s executive order regarding immigrants and sanctuary cities.
“I thought, ‘We’ll take someone in, and have them live with us,’” said Holtzman, leader of the Philadelphia-based Tikkun Olam Chavurah, a spiritual and political community grounded in Jewish tradition.
“Good impulses are nice, but we need to act carefully and thoughtfully,” she added.
For several years now Holtzman has worked to support many issues pertaining to social justice, including immigrant rights. Her congregation doesn’t have its own building, so it partners with a local church and donates “time, energy, money, whatever they need.”
“We know that people will need sanctuary,” she said. “We’re not going to let people who grew up here be thrown out of this country with no where to go. It’s crystal clear that we’re not going to let this happen. As a moral person, and as a Jew? I mean, good Lord!”
Despite Trump’s recent order, since Holtzman lives in Philadelphia — classified by many as a “sanctuary city” — the rabbi may be able to stand by her words.
What is a sanctuary city? According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, there are 364 counties and 39 cities, including Chicago, Hartford, New York City and Philadelphia, that refuse to cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Additionally, up to 400 churches and synagogues nationwide are declaring that immigrants can seek refuge in their buildings. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and US Customs and Border Protection consider places of worship, along with schools and hospitals, “sensitive locations,” and avoid arresting, searching or interviewing people there under most circumstances.
In New York, for example, Yeshiva University announced this week that immigration officials won’t be allowed to enter campuses without a warrant and won’t disclose information about students without a court-ordered subpoena.
However, it is now a question whether law enforcement will continue to avoid places of worship. Trump’s executive order seeks to “strip federal grant money from the sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants,” and says it will “ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.”
Signed at the Department of Homeland Security on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the order says:
“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”
‘The irony of this coming out on International Holocaust Remembrance Day was just somewhat bizarre for us’
Governors and mayors nationwide have declared their intention to defy Trump’s order and refuse to assist federal authorities in rounding up and deporting undocumented immigrants. Likewise, many within the Jewish community are also resolved to do what it takes to protect undocumented immigrants — be it give shelter, provide legal aid, or something else.
“The irony of this coming out on International Holocaust Remembrance Day was just somewhat bizarre for us as Jews. I found it deeply ironic and troubling. I felt a visceral reaction to it. It goes to our very bones and soul. We are in danger of going back to an era in this country that we as Jews should not feel good about,” Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said.
With 65 chapters across the country, the NCJW is figuring out exactly how it will respond. It’s working with coalition partners to find the best and most practical solutions, Kaufman said. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, six states accounted for 59% of unauthorized immigrants: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
In New York City there are several organizations working to help undocumented immigrants. Among them is The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York, an interfaith network of congregations, organizations and individuals. It works to reform immigration laws to “promote fairness, social and economic justice.”
During his campaign Trump railed against undocumented workers and sanctuary cities, describing them as bastions of anarchy. An entire evening of the Republican National Convention was devoted to the issue.
According to a July 2015 report from the American Immigration Council, “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” the number of undocumented immigrants in the country tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million between 1990 and 2013.
During the same period, said the report, “FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent — which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.”
Trump supporters, writes USA Today, often cite data from the US Sentencing Commission that said undocumented immigrants accounted for 9.2% of federal murder convictions in 2013. To put that in perspective, however, that translates to eight out of the 14,196 murder cases reported by the FBI for that year.
Meanwhile, the majority of Congressional Republicans support Trump, introducing two bills calling for the elimination of federal funding from police departments that refuse to detain undocumented immigrants until they could be deported.
In spite of this, several cities have stated they won’t comply.
On Tuesday, San Francisco City became the first city in the US to file lawsuit challenging Trump’s order. “San Francisco is a city of immigrants, many of whom are undocumented, who come here to live, work, and raise families. San Francisco is safer when all people, including undocumented immigrants, feel safe reporting crimes,” according to the suit.
Also on Tuesday, an ordinance was proposed in Ithaca, New York, city code that would declare it a Sanctuary City.
According to Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page: “This is an ordinance — not just a statement — but an actual ordinance that will ensure Ithaca remains a sanctuary for all hard-working people. Trump wants to break us apart. He is targeting sanctuary cities — falsely believing that we will turn in our neighbors to save ourselves. Well we are not taking it laying down… This ordinance is entirely legal — unlike Trump’s executive orders. And if we need to, we’ll prove it in court.”
Additionally, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said his police department would not follow Trump’s orders for police officers to help the federal government detain undocumented immigrants for deportation.
The same holds true for Portland, Oregon.
“Portland is actually not officially a Sanctuary City — yet. In some ways it doesn’t need to be, because Oregon is a Sanctuary State. A court decision in a Clackamas County suit that was appealed to district court where the principle was affirmed, does not allow Oregon law enforcement staff to contact ICE or hold detainees until ICE can interview them,” said Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz in an email.
According to the 10th Amendment, federal funds can’t be used to coerce local agencies to cooperate with the federal government
Critics of the order have cited the order’s unconstitutionality. According to the 10th Amendment, federal funds can’t be used to coerce local agencies to cooperate with the federal government.
Additionally, opponents of the order — including a several Jewish organizations — said the order undermines public safety since involving police in deportation increases the risk to immigrants and their families who step forward as victims or witnesses of crimes.
“The ‘sanctuary cities’ provision, especially, threatens to seriously compromise the police’s ability to keep communities safe by undermining trust and communication between police and immigrant populations,” said David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
As reported in The Washington Post, advocacy groups are also concerned about language in Trump’s executive order that removes federal privacy protections from many immigrants who aren’t US citizens or permanent residents, such as students, foreign workers, asylum seekers and undocumented people whose parents brought them to the US as children.
These are among the very people the New York-based Educational Alliance works to help. Founded in 1889 to help Jewish immigrants settle into life in NYC, the organization now helps all immigrants. That’s why it is the duty of the alliance to respond, said Alan van Capelle, CEO of the Educational Alliance.
“The names of the people may sound different, they may look different from a century ago but these are the same kind of hard working people who want to contribute to life here,” van Capelle said. “Now they are walking in here with fear about the future and anxiety about what comes next. We have to be a safe harbor.”
‘The names of the people may sound different, they may look different from a century ago but these are the same kind of hard working people’
Whether it’s the staff member who is a Syrian refugee or clients who may have undocumented family of their own, van Capelle said the Education Alliance must provide support for all. Sometimes that means providing information about the New York City Office of Immigrant Affairs and legal assistance. Other times it simply means being someone to lean on.
“I wish body language was the only thing that I saw change [since the election]. People will come to me and ask if they can have a few minutes of my time. Within 30 seconds they are in tears, they are crying,” van Capelle said.
In a more symbolic gesture of support after the rise in hate crimes and speech following the presidential election, the alliance unveiled its “We the People” campaign.
On it the Declaration of Independence is translated into Arabic, Hebrew, Mandarin and Spanish. The mural was part of an initiative to remind the community that the Educational Alliance stands for inclusiveness, equal rights, justice and fairness.
These are sentiments that NCJW’s Kaufman agrees with.
“We are stronger when we stand united against hate, when we are united by our values — values that include the freedom to practice our faith without fear, intimidation, or threat of physical violence. As Jews we are taught ‘va’ahavtem et ha-ger’ — as we were once strangers, so must we love the stranger,” Kaufman said.
“We must rise above prejudice and fear to open our communities to the individuals and families who seek a haven in the United States.”