Last week, Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook and Deputy Director Steve Bocknek represented Avodah as part of a delegation of 17 national Jewish organizations to the US/Mexico border to witness the experiences of immigrants and asylum seekers and to help identify how the Jewish community can meaningfully respond. We met with men, women and children seeking asylum in the United States, those who were recently deported to Tijuana, as well as refugee resettlement staff, asylum attorneys, representatives of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Consul General of Mexico. Jewish tradition teaches us the importance of bearing witness and after 20 years of direct service work, we know how important it is to be proximate to the issues we hope to impact and the people we are trying to empower.
Avodah Executive Director Cheryl Cook speaks to the #JewsAtTheBorder contingent after visiting a children’s shelter.
Fleeing Violence, Persecution and Poverty
Violence, extreme poverty and persecution in neighboring countries have created levels of desperation that are hard to fathom. In Tijuana, we visited Instituto Madre Asunta, A.C., a shelter for women and children, where many had fled rape, the most brutal forms of gang violence, and extreme poverty. They are waiting, hoping to claim asylum in the United States so they can have a better life. We saw women sitting quietly, while their kids played in the small courtyard, or napped in their laps. Sister Adelia Contini, who directs the shelter, estimates people now wait between three and four weeks before they can apply for asylum. Their lives hang in limbo as they wait.
At Casa del Migrante, a neighboring men’s shelter, we met with director Father Pat Murphy. He told us that in the past, the men would typically spend a few nights at the shelter while on their way north as farmworkers. Now, they often spend weeks or up to 11 months.
Upon entering the men’s shelter, our group recognized two young men, P. and F., sitting on a bench. Just a day earlier, the pair had been in San Diego for a mass “Operation Streamline” hearing, a joint DHS/DOJ zero-tolerance initiative to border crossing that began in 2005. It mandates that nearly all undocumented immigrants crossing the Southern border be prosecuted through the federal criminal justice system in group hearings. Up to 70 people can be tried at the same time. Some cases are handled in a matter of hours, from arraignment to sentencing to deportation. Due to the rapid processing, those who should be able to request asylum, are often not given the opportunity to do so and may have to serve a prison term, despite possible eligibility for legal protections.
Children Seeking Asylum
Our Pledge in 5779
As Rosh HaShanah approaches, we are called upon to reflect on this past year and take stock of our impact. As we welcome in year 5779, we will not forget the people sitting on both sides of our border. We will pledge to speak up, stand up and find new ways to take action to play a role in repairing years of broken immigration policies and inhumane treatment.
5 Things You Can Do:
- Advocate. Call your Members of Congress to tell them you oppose the separation of asylum-seeking families and the practice of family detention.
- Take action and sign on to this letter from our partners at HIAS to tell your representatives to protect asylum seekers.
- Support Avodah’s partner organizations working on immigration such as HIAS,NIJC, CAIR, and CASA, Sanctuary for Families and New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG).
- Vote. Primary elections are taking place across the country. Check your election guides here.
- If you are a Spanish-speaking attorney or legal assistance volunteer, check with our partner organizations above to see if your skills can be of assistance.