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What Happened in El Paso - and 6 Ways You Can Act for Immigrant Justice

What Happened in El Paso - and 6 Ways You Can Act for Immigrant Justice

Rabbi Rick Jacobs stands in front of immigration justice signs at the recent event in El Paso Texas

“I’m here in El Paso this weekend because I worship a God who is impatient with injustice – a God who demands that migrants must not be wronged,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs told hundreds of protesters gathered at an interfaith event in El Paso, TX, last weekend. 

My faith requires me with every fiber of my being, to oppose the inhumane conditions in which infants, children and their parents are being caged.” 

Last weekend, Rabbi Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, traveled to the United States/Mexico border to represent the North American Reform Jewish community in an act of solidarity and witness to say: People of faith demand a just and compassionate immigration policy.  

The trip, organized by Repairers of the Breachdrew hundreds of fellow protesters, including many other Reform clergy. It also brought much-needed media attention to the El Paso area, where the cruel impact of the United States’ current immigration policies has been most acutely felt.  

On Sunday, Rabbi Jacobs - joined by other Reform Jewish leaders like Rabbi Ron Segal, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Dr. Julia Paley, immigrant justice director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) - traveled across the border from El Paso in Juarez, Mexico, to speak with refugees a shelter for Central Americans. These families are barred from entering the U.S. to apply for asylum under the dangerous “Remain in Mexico” policy recently implemented by the Trump administration. 

“You are not alone,” Rabbi Jacobs told a group of Guatemalan refugees, including a mother holding her young daughter in her arms. “We and millions of people know you and will fight for you.” 

The next evening, the group gathering included testimony from several immigrants living in the United States, including a teenager whose father’s deportation has driven her immigration activism, and a young man who was held at a Customs and Border Protection facility for weeks without access to a toothbrush or shower. 

Following the testimony from the immigrants on stage, Cantor Rosalie Will Boxt sang from Psalm 130:  

Mima’akim karatichaya 
Out of the depths, I call to You,  
Oh hear my voice, hear my voice. 

“We heard the voices of the voiceless,” she said, "but it’s not enough just to hear the stories. Now we have a sacred responsibility… they’re part of our story; they belong to us now.” 

In his speech, Rabbi Jacobs laid out the Reform Jewish community’s key demands for immigrant justice: 

  1. End family separation 
  2. End immigrant detention
  3. End deportation raids
  4. Uphold the right to apply for asylum
  5. Cut funds to ICE and CBP that are used to detain and deport immigrants 

“Being an immigrant is not a crime. Being a refugee is not a crime. Seeking asylum is not a crime. Seeking a better life is not a crime,” Rabbi Jacobs said. He cited Jeremiah 31:15, which includes Rachel’s bitter, wailing cries for her children. Kol b’ramah nishmah. (Read his full address to the crowd.) 

On Monday morning, Rabbi Jacobs and other key faith leaders led several hundred marchers to an immigration detention facility operated by the Department of Homeland Security. Alongside other clergy, Rabbi Jacobs requested to be allowed inside to visit two immigrants participating in a hunger strike; the authorities declined to open the gates. 

Speaking outside the facility, Rabbi Jacobs recounted the story of Pharaoh and those who resisted him in ancient Egypt. “There were people of courage and they stood up and would not fall into line,” he said. “Those people are related to each of us, because we will not be silent.” 

You can join the Reform Jewish community in demanding just and compassionate immigration policies, too. Here’s how: 

  1. Write to CongressUse our easy action alert tool to urge your elected officials to cut funds for immigration detention and deportation. 
  2. Raise your voice online: Share these messages on social media and with your friends and family, using downloadable graphics and customizable sample messages from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. 
  3. Mobilize your congregationEnroll in the RAC’s Brit Olam’s Immigrant Justice Cohort to get your community engaged in the work for immigrant justice. 
  4. Encourage others to take actionConnect with local organizations and promote the Reform Jewish position on immigration by following the steps at rac.org/5ways. 
  5. Attend an eventJoin Jewish organizations in Washington, D.C., on August 11 (the Jewish holiday of Tishah B’Av) in a vigil for immigrant justice. Can't make it? Consider hosting a local event in your community. 
  6. Support our work: Donate to the RAC’s immigration justice work so we can keep traveling to places like El Paso and organizing the Reform Jewish community for immigrant justice. 

The path toward a truly just and compassionate immigration policy in the United States is long, and there are no easy solutions to eliminating the cruel policies that we oppose. But just as we did in El Paso, we will keep showing up, taking action, and making a difference – and we’re glad you’re with us. 

Arno Rosenfeld is the digital communications manager at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Arno Rosenfeld
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