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Immigrants and Refugees

A Social Justice Primer for Teens and Parents

The Broader Issue

When we speak about immigrants, we’re referring to citizens of other countries who are, for any number of reasons, seeking to live permanently in the United States. When we speak about refugees, we’re referring to citizens of other countries who are fleeing their homes due to violence and persecution, and are seeking refuge elsewhere in the world.

Refugee resettlement has been a global focus since the displacement of millions of people during the Holocaust. Most recently, in 2015, there was a massive surge of refugees. This was due, in large part, to long term ripple effects of the Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East and Northern Africa that began in 2011. This, combined with the existing refugees fleeing from countries in other parts of the world, led to what’s been dubbed the global refugee crisis, with well over 65 million people being displaced from their home countries due to violence. A majority of the pressure to resettle the recent surge of refugees is placed on European countries, due to their proximity to Africa and the Middle East. In the early-mid 2000s, the United States had been welcoming between 40,000-80,000 refugees per year, and in 2016, in response to the global refugee crisis, President Obama agreed to increase that to 110,000. Most recently, President Trump has decided to limit that number to 50,000, and put additional restrictions on refugees from several war-torn nations.

It’s important to understand the greater context of why so many people are displaced as refugees, the process they undergo to be resettled, and the challenges on countries who welcome them.

The Reform Movement Position

The Reform Jewish Movement has long supported safe, accessible immigration policies, and been advocates of refugees worldwide. Drawing from Leviticus 19:33 which states that, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” the Reform Movement has strongly opposed President Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration and refugee resettlement.

Guiding Questions

  1. Why are you, as a Jewish teen, compelled to help refugees and immigrants?
  2. Why is an organization like HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) so vital to our work in immigration? What other organizations exist that can help us with this kind of work?
  3. What about the refugee experience did you identify with? What made you sad? What made you want to take action?
  4. How can you take your understanding of the refugee crisis, around the world, and bring it back to your community to help others begin to learn and take action?

Taking Action & Learning More About the Issue

Raising awareness is the first step, but in order to affect real change, ongoing, tangible action needs to be taken. Your family, and your teen, may consider some of the following options to take their learning to the next level:

  • Visit the Religious Action Center’s Urgency of Now website for immediate legislative action items, such as advocating your position to members of Congress.
  • Consider spending part of your summer on Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest, a program focused exclusively on refugee resettlement, run in partnership with the International Rescue Committee. You’ll spend two weeks running a summer camp for children of newly arrived refugees, in the context of providing a fun, safe environment for them while their parents are handling legal, language, and work responsibilities.
  • Dive deep into the issue with this primer about the US Executive Orders regarding immigrants and sanctuary cities.

Find more resources for teens about refugees and immigration from NFTY, the Reform Youth Movement.

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