“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”-Leviticus 19:34
The decision announced last week to end the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which temporarily shields undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation, is a devastating blow to 800,000 young people in our country who are working, going to school, and serving in our military. As Jews, we are taught that we have an obligation to “love the stranger,” as we have been strangers throughout our history. It is a tenant of our Jewish values, as well as American ones, as we are a nation of immigrants.
For all those affected by the recent announcement, including those within our Avodah family who may themselves be impacted, or whose loved ones may be affected, please know that we support you and we are here for you.
When we see vulnerable populations under threat, one thing that keeps us so inspired is the dedication of our Jewish Service Corps Members and alumni, who are rising to meet the needs of this historic moment. We are so proud to have our Jewish Service Corps Members working with incredible organizations all over the country (listed below) who are on the front lines of immigration reform and working to protect the rights of vulnerable young people. With unwavering moral courage, our participants work in all facets of immigration, helping families stay together, creating paths to education and employment, and giving a voice to those in the shadows.
We’d like to share a few of their experiences with you:
Briana Carp (Avodah Jewish Service Corps, NYC ‘08-09) worked with immigrant populations at Sanctuary for Families during her Avodah year and is now continuing her work in the field as Coordinator of Legal Information at Comprehensive Development Inc. (CDI) at the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day School, which works to help underserved high school students graduate high school and successfully move into the workforce and higher education.
Melissa Fich (Avodah Jewish Service Corps, NYC ‘15-16) worked with the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and now works for the organization as a paralegal within the Immigrant Protection Unit. She is a first generation American of Venezuelan descent.
How did your Avodah experience lead you toward your work on immigrants rights?
Briana: “My placement with Sanctuary for Families through Avodah gave me the foundation to do this work. I saw the ways that one’s immigration’s status made people vulnerable to exploitation, which is the basis of a lot of struggles.”
Melissa: “I found that doing Avodah gave me a really strong foundation to draw connections between my work in immigration and Judaism. I think of the idea of welcoming the stranger and the Passover story, remembering that we were once strangers, too. I found these connections to be meaningful and powerful.”
Can you tell me what impact DACA has had on the lives of your clients?
Briana: “After hearing the news, I was pretty devastated. I thought about the youth I’ve worked with. DACA made a huge difference for them. Having a work permit has for the first time has given them stable employment and some have been able to go to college, even though they aren’t eligible for financial aid (that’s one way DACA didn’t go far enough). Some have been able to visit their home country and see their family members for the first time since they were very little and that can make a huge difference in their lives. Most of all, it gave them freedom from the fear of deportation…The folks I work with are strong and resilient, but I see constant fear from my students. It makes their life hard and puts them at risk in other ways. I see the emotional toll of hiding who you are. One of my students was finally able to get a green card and he told me, ‘I can finally breathe.’”
Melissa: “DACA has made a huge difference for my clients. They can breathe easier going to work and school knowing they have protection from deportation. Some of them didn’t even know they were undocumented because they were brought here at such a young age. They consider themselves American. Many of my clients have mixed immigration status families and being able to work legally, support their families, have a social security card, and open a bank account has changed their lives. Some of my clients are studying in high school and others are in college. Some are looking to become doctors, nurses, lawyers or go into computer science. They have this future as the next generation and I think that losing DACA will force them back into the shadows to financially survive.”
How do you think your own family’s Jewish immigration story influences or motivates you to protect immigrant populations?
Briana: “With the history of immigrants fleeing the Holocaust, fleeing violence in the Soviet Union, and knowing how some were turned away only to be sent back, we have a lot in common with many of the immigrants I work with. My grandmother is from France. She lived through the war and I think there are a lot of parallels to those escaping violence today. As Jews, we really have an obligation to stand up for immigrant rights. Thinking about my own family’s story of Jewish immigration is where I look to for inspiration in my work now to protect immigrants. It’s part of what drives me.”
Melissa: “My family is from Venezuela and I’m first generation American. I have cousins in Venezuela and because of food shortages and antisemitism, my own family members had to leave and were granted asylum. Because of that, I’ve learned to appreciate how quickly a place someone calls home can turn to a place of fear. That’s a big motivation for me – recognizing the situations people have to escape from. It’s especially dangerous in Latin America. Many times, families didn’t have a choice. The young people under DACA didn’t get to have a say. They consider themselves American.”
Avodah is proud to serve alongside organizations across the country working to create a more just world for immigrant populations. They include:
- National Immigrant Justice Center (Chicago)
- Care Coalition (DC)
- EXCELth (New Orleans)
- Crescent Care in Case Management Triage (New Orleans)
- Voice of The Experienced, VOTE (New Orleans)
- Comprehensive Development Inc., DCI (NYC)
- New York Legal Assistance Group (NYC)
- Sanctuary for Families (NYC)
- Mil Mujeres (DC)
- Casa de Maryland (DC)
- HIAS (DC).
For those who may be affected, or whose families may be affected by the ending of the DACA, here are some helpful resources: