Rabbis and Jewish activists detained in DC while defending ‘Dreamers’

"In the Torah, we are called 36 different ways to love the stranger, the orphan and the widow. We insist that Dreamers be recognized as the Americans that they are."

January 18, 2018 13:59
3 minute read.

Jewish activists protesting in DC in favor of "dreamers.". (photo credit: BEND THE ARC JEWISH ACTION)


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Eighty-two rabbis and Jewish activists were arrested on Capitol Hill Wednesday while staging a sit-in to show solidarity with “Dreamers” – illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

The group was protesting steps taken by US President Donald Trump to scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama, which gives work permits to Dreamers. The program protects some 800,000 young adults from deportation.

They are called “Dreamers” after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act bill. The bill, introduced in 2001 – which sets the qualifications for them to gain US residency – is yet to be passed after several attempts.

Under the banner “Let my people stay,” representatives from 17 Jewish groups – including the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, the Anti-Defamation League and T’ruah – sang songs of protest in Hebrew and English, as they sat in a circle in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building.

The activists are demanding passage of the DREAM Act to protect such immigrants from deportation.

US Capitol Police communications director Eva Malecki told The Huffington Post that the protesters were charged for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” in a public building.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism who was among those arrested, said: “We demand that Congress act immediately to ensure that the Dreamers have a secure future in the United States. This is no time for business as usual. In the Torah, we are called 36 different ways to love the stranger, the orphan and the widow. We insist that Dreamers be recognized as the Americans that they are.”

Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, who was also detained, said: “The Trump Administration’s treatment of immigrants in this country has proven to be inhumane, immoral and intolerable. Through his actions and words, Trump has made clear that his policies are rooted in base racism. Today, we came from all across the country to demonstrate what a policy rooted in love could look like. Fighting alongside Dreamers, and putting our own bodies on the line for them, is an expression of our deepest Jewish values. Congress must heed the will of the people and pass a clean DREAM Act now.”

ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt also expressed his support for the protest, stating, “...the Jewish community intimately understands that, at its best, the United States has been a beacon of hope for refugees and immigrants around the world facing persecution or seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Congress must act immediately to ensure nothing less. A clean DREAM Act is a moral imperative for the heart and soul of our nation.”

Several senators who back the “Dreamers” stopped by the protest, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont); Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), the second-ranked Senate Democrat, who is leading negotiations with Republicans and the White House on the issue; and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). Also greeting the protesters were Jewish Reps.

Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both Florida Democrats.

The US Justice Department on Tuesday said it will ask the Supreme Court to overturn a judge’s ruling last week that blocked Trump’s move to end the DACA program.

The administration is challenging a January 9 decision by San Francisco-based US District Judge William Alsup, who ruled that DACA must remain in place while the litigation is resolved.

Alsup’s ruling came during negotiations between Trump and congressional leaders over immigration policy. Trump had said that he was willing to endorse a measure that restores protections for the “Dreamers” as long as it includes new restrictions on legal immigration. Democrats are ready to countenance some restrictions, including money for a wall on the US-Mexico border, but are resisting others – for instance, an end to “chain migration,” which allows immigrants to sponsor immediate family for immigration.

Talks fell apart after Trump rejected a bipartisan deal and provoked outrage with his reported use of vulgar language to describe African countries in a meeting with lawmakers on immigration.

JTA and Reuters contributed to this report.

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