After Yom Kippur, let us remember who we are

Let us widen our roads and not build walls. We thank you for your donations and support.

October 12, 2019 20:45
3 minute read.
After Yom Kippur, let us remember who we are

A US border patrol agent looks over the Rio Grande river at the border between United States and Mexico, in Roma, Texas, US, May 11, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Persecution. Flight. Exile. These are words all too familiar to the Jewish people. On this Yom Kippur, the most solemn of the High HoIy Days, I would like to bring attention to the unaccompanied migrant children from the Northern Triangle of Central America who have fled persecution to seek the protection of the American people.

US immigration law recognizes violence as persecution, and these children have fled a violence so pernicious that flight is the only remedy, despite the certain perilousness of their journey to our southern border.

One of the most repeated prayers recited during Yom Kippur, the most solemn day for the Jewish people, is called ashamnu. The ashamnu is an extraordinary acknowledgment of our weaknesses and strengths as human beings. We repent for our collective sins and then ask to be granted one more year to right our collective wrongs. Ashamnu is a profoundly human acknowledgment of collective accountability for wrongdoing, repentance and improvement. It embraces both the fragility and the métier of human beings.

On this Yom Kippur, I asked that we assume collective responsibility for the wrongs committed against these unaccompanied migrant children in their home countries and on their treacherous journey to our southern border. I ask that we be granted another year to right the wrongs and provide a refuge and a place to call Home for these young people who have left behind everything familiar to them to begin anew – strangers in a strange land.

The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), since 1911, has worked to provide for the needs and advocate on behalf of refugees and immigrants in America and around the world. The successive waves of refugees and immigrants throughout our American history, obliged our organization to be a voice for the voiceless – serving those who have survived persecution to flee and seek the protection of America’s enduring principles and values.

In June 2019, USCRI opened a shelter for unaccompanied migrant girls in Lake Worth, Florida. We named this shelter Rinconcito del Sol – “little corner of sunshine.” The girls come to us under the mandate of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

We provide the girls with a supportive and nurturing environment, skilled and caring staff and the services required to address the trauma they have experienced in their home countries and on their journey to the United States. Our primary goal is to reunite them with their families here in the United States.

The shelter staff include social workers, teachers, and counselors who ensure that each girl gets a comprehensive circle of care – education, medical and counseling services, physical education and legal services.

Throughout the center, the walls are affixed with the stories and photos of women icons such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congresswoman Lois Frankel, who recently visited the shelter. The girls are taught not to be defined by their victimhood – although part of their experience – but by their courage, determination and fortitude. After all, they have survived.

On Yom Kippur, all over the world in Jewish places of worship, the ashamnu has been recited again and again. Each time the prayer is said, “We have forgotten who we are,” I ask that we remember the unaccompanied migrant children, refugees and asylum seekers who have sought sanctuary in our country. I ask that we remember who we are as a people and what we represent to the millions of refugees, immigrants and asylees who seek our protection.

I ask that we honor the teachings of the great teacher Maimonides who, when responding to a mundane question about the width of a road, emphasized our collective responsibility to build road to cities of refuge twice as wide as an ordinary road. He said, “The court is obligated to straighten the roads to the cities of refuge, to repair them and broaden them. They must remove all impediments and obstacles… bridges should be built (over all natural barriers) so as not to delay one who is fleeing to [the city of refuge].”

Let us widen our roads and not build walls. We thank you for your donations and support.

The writer is president and CEO of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).

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