'Judaism demands that we welcome the stranger'

Jewish groups enraged as Trump axes migrant ‘Dreamers’ program

ADL, AJC and Reform movement castigate US president for ‘morally misguided’ decision to end Obama-era program protecting young immigrants

Immigrants and supporters demonstrate during a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in front of the White House on September 5, 2017 in Washington DC. (AFP/ Eric BARADAT)
Immigrants and supporters demonstrate during a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in front of the White House on September 5, 2017 in Washington DC. (AFP/ Eric BARADAT)

WASHINGTON — US Jewish groups and leaders reacted angrily Tuesday after the Trump administration announced it was rolling back an Obama-era executive order that protected young immigrants from deportation, citing the Jewish community’s own experiences as immigrants to America.

Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ remarks, in which he officially announced — on behalf of US President Donald Trump — an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and called on Congress to replace the policy by March 2018,  organizations promptly put out statements lambasting the move.

“President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program is morally misguided and poor public policy,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “The contributions of DACA recipients – young people brought to this country by their parents and who lack citizenship through no fault of their own – make our country stronger.”

Roughly 800,000 current beneficiaries of the program, also known as Dreamers, will be ultimately impacted by this reversal, but White House officials said there will be a cushion period before it takes effect.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, on President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, which has provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sessions told reporters during his press conference that Obama established DACA through an unconstitutional overreach of his executive authority. “The executive branch through DACA deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions,” he said.

Nevertheless, the Anti-Defamation League vowed to fight the administration’s decision.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at the organization’s Never is Now conference in New York City, November 17, 2016. (Courtesy of the ADL)

“This action by the president and his administration is cruel, unnecessary and inconsistent with the core values of our country,” the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement. “We support an immigration policy that is comprehensive, protects our security, reunites families and improves our economy while honoring our values as a nation of immigrants.”

‘We support a bipartisan effort to protect these young immigrants and renew our call on Congress to act now,” he added.

The American Jewish Committee, for its part, called it a “devastating blow to hundreds of thousands of young people who have benefited from the program — and who have in turn contributed to communities across the country.”

Richard T. Foltin, AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs, insisted that “welcoming, not penalizing, these young people, who, as children, could not have knowingly violated any law, is in consonance with our nation’s foundational principles.”

Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said that DACA beneficiaries invoked a particular resonance with the American concept.

“There’s a reason why those in the program were called Dreamers, because the program represented every aspiration that is commensurate with the American ideal, with the fact that people can start out with nothing and make lives for themselves and become productive members of society and achieve beyond what they were born into,” she told The Times of Israel.

Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, said: “Like generations of immigrants before, including millions of Jewish parents and grandparents, the parents of these kids have made enormous sacrifices, not for themselves, but in the hope that their children would have a chance at a real future.” He went on, “The president has likely put the American dream out of reach for countless people today, as he continues to reverse course on the American tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees.”

Some invoked Jewish history to suggest that the Trump administration’s policy toward immigrants represented an affront to their values.

Said Pesner: “As Jews, our people have known the experience of being ‘strangers in strange lands.’ Our past reminds us of the struggles faced by so many immigrants today. Because of this history, Judaism demands that we welcome the stranger and compels us to work for a just immigration system.”

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