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#FamiliesBelongTogether, and We Won't Stand for Anything Less

#FamiliesBelongTogether, and We Won't Stand for Anything Less

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Rev. Al Sharpton, and other faith leaders in McAllen, TX

In Jeremiah 31:15, we read,

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are gone.”

Today, Rachel’s great sadness is being perpetrated by our own government on our own soil. We join Rachel’s cry because right here in the U.S., the land of the free, children are being detained, locked away from their parents.

I write to you from McAllen, TX, site of the United States’ largest immigrant detention center. Along with nearly 40 colleagues – Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, and evangelical – I visited this week to bear witness to the families, parents and children alike, who are legally seeking asylum in the U.S. and have been devastatingly impacted by our country’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policies.

Together, my colleagues as I visited a respite center run by Catholic Charities and Sr. Norma Pimentel, where families being processed for asylum receive support in clothing, food, diapers, and care. The stories they shared with us about the persecution that inspired their flight to the U.S. – as well as their hopes for themselves and especially their desire to give their children a safe future – will stay with me always.

We intended to go inside the Customs and Border Protection Processing site where both children and adults are being held, but unfortunately, our delegation of faith leaders was not approved for entry today. From previous visits, I can describe the setting: Imagine a large warehouse with metal fencing, inside which men, women, and children live. They sleep on thin pads and cover themselves with Mylar blankets as they await a determination of whether they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. or be deported back to the countries they’ve fled.

Since April, an already-broken immigration system has been even further damaged by the Trump administration’s policy of separating more than 2,000 children from their parents, who came to the U.S. seeking asylum. It breaks my heart to hear the sounds of anguished children crying out for their mothers and fathers, and to see the tortured faces of parents who do not know when – or even if – they will be reunited with their children.

While President Trump’s Wednesday executive order ending the policy of separating families is a step in the right direction, the administration has no plan to reunite those already separated – and children should never be incarcerated, with or without their parents.

As a rabbi, it is a blessing to stand side by side with other rabbis, cantors, priests, imams, and pastors, and, with our presence, to demonstrate our commitment to achieving a more just and compassionate immigration system.

To call for transparency in our immigration system.

To say to the families we met this morning that we see them and hear their stories.

To play with the toddlers and see their smiles.

We will continue to work together across lines of faith to lift our voices in unity as we say, resolute and undeterred, that #familiesbelongtogether.

To learn what you can do, check out this post on 8 ways to take Jewish action around family separation. Follow the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism on Facebook and Twitter for continued updates on this issue and information about our Reform Jewish community’s involvement.  

Photo: Abel Riojas Photography

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner represents the Reform Movement to Congress and the administration as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He also serves as the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America, he has been an inspirational leader, creative entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for social justice.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
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