Orthodox Union expresses concern over family separation at US border
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Orthodox Union expresses concern over family separation at US border

A day after hosting AG Sessions, umbrella Jewish group says 'deeply concerned' about his policy to take illegal immigrant children away from their parents after they enter country

Nayeli Zelaya, from El Salvador, rests alongside her two sleeping siblings, at the sports club where Central American migrants traveling with the annual "Stations of the Cross" caravan are camped out in Mexico, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)
Nayeli Zelaya, from El Salvador, rests alongside her two sleeping siblings, at the sports club where Central American migrants traveling with the annual "Stations of the Cross" caravan are camped out in Mexico, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Orthodox Union released a statement criticizing the Trump Administration’s policy of separating the families of illegal immigrants after they cross the United States border.

The statement came one day after the OU, an umbrella US Orthodox group, hosted a speech by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose department instituted the family separation policy.

“As an Orthodox Jewish organization whose values are anchored in those of the Torah and Jewish history, we are deeply concerned about any steps taken that affect families and the parent/child relationship,” read the statement by OU President Moishe Bane, issued Thursday evening. “Thus, we believe that immigration, asylum and border security policies must also be fashioned and implemented in a manner that takes all steps possible to keep parents and children united.”

Under the policy, implemented in recent months, every illegal migrant who crosses the United States border is prosecuted and detained. Because children cannot be prosecuted with adults, they are re-classified as unaccompanied minors and taken away, either to mass children’s shelters or to foster homes.

Critics of the policy say forcibly separating parents and children is traumatizing and draconian. Sessions says it’s a necessary measure to enforce border security.

A two-year-old Honduran stands with her mother after being detained by US Border Patrol agents near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

Religious groups across the spectrum, Jewish and not, have opposed the policy, and the OU is the most recent conservative religious organization to question it. It has been criticized in recent days by the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son.

A day before the OU released the statement, on Wednesday, it hosted Sessions as the keynote speaker at its annual conference in Washington, DC Sessions’ speech largely concerned advancing religious freedom and preventing discrimination against houses of worship.

Facing criticism for hosting Sessions, the OU defended the invitation as the method that “will likely yield the greatest influence” regarding Sessions’ policies. It also praised Sessions’ remarks on religious liberty, which it has advocated for in the past. The statement noted that OU leadership met with Sessions privately and discussed the family separation policy.

“[R]ather than advancing in the public domain our community’s concerns regarding current border policies, we took advantage of an opportunity to raise these concerns,” Bane’s statement said. “Prior to the Attorney General’s address, I and other leaders of the Orthodox Union met privately with the Attorney General to share these concerns.”

After his speech, the OU presented Sessions with a plaque displaying the biblical verse “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” The statement said the plaque was meant “to direct us that the goal of justice must be pursued with means that are themselves just.”

Jeff Sessions speaking at the annual Orthodox Union Washington conference, June 13, 2018. (OU via JTA)

Ahead of Sessions’ speech Wednesday, the liberal rabbinic human rights organization T’ruah put out a petition asking the OU to challenge Sessions’ immigration policies, including family separation. The petition garnered over 1,500 signatures. Included were more than 100 members of OU synagogues, among them a handful of rabbis.

“All families want to be safe from violence and terror,” the petition says. “That is why so many of us are shocked and horrified that our Attorney General, in the name of security, would so terrorize and violate these families who are fleeing violence. By giving him a platform to speak without challenging him, you would, Gd forbid, be endorsing his actions.”

On Thursday, 26 Jewish groups, including the three other major Jewish religious movements, signed a letter opposing the family separation policy. The statement was organized by the Anti-Defamation League.

“This policy undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people,” the letter says. “As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”

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