Friday, November 16, 2018

Children with their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Credit: JNS via YouTube)

OU, Agudath Israel and RCA were among dozens of Jewish organizations who publicly opposed the child separation policy.

With the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy in which all unlawful border crossings were referred for prosecution, adults have been moved to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service while their children were sent to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation. In the last week, the debate moved front and center as wide swathes of the American public, including virtually every major Jewish-American organization, objected to the child separation policy; pictures and audio recordings circulated in the media of children crying for their parents served to rise the din of objection.

The administration held out from taking action initially, in an attempt to politically force the Democrats to work with them to develop more compassionate legislation, but that effort was unsuccessful. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon effectively putting an end to family separation if they are detained crossing the border illegally. For now, adults will still be prosecuted but families will stay together while they are in custody. Cases involving children will be expedited, and the Department of Defense is charged to help house families. 

The Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and the Rabbinical Council of America were among the major Orthodox umbrella organizations which joined many other Jewish groups in criticizing the administration’s decisions to separate the children of undocumented aliens at this nation’s southern border.

The OU joined 26 other Jewish organizations as signatures on a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen expressing opposition to the “zero tolerance” policy. “This policy undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and wellbeing of thousands of people,” the letter charged.

The letter stated that Jews understand the “plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression.”

In an official statement on its website, Agudath Israel wrote of its “very deep concern and disappointment over the recently adopted policy of separating the members of families who have entered the United States illegally. It is a practice that has caused, and will continue to cause, profound suffering and pain to both parents and children. We implore that the policy be immediately rescinded, and that affected families be reunited.”

In signing the letter to Sessions and Nielsen, the OU joined Jewish organizations spanning the Jewish roadmap including the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, HIAS, Hadassah, the Rabbinical Assembly and the Union for Reform Judaism.

“Our Jewish faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Our own people’s history as “strangers” reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just. We urge you to immediately rescind the ‘zero tolerance’ policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built,” read the letter.

In its statement, Agudath Israel called the U.S. “a shining beacon of freedom in the world” that must always exhibit humanity in its laws and policies. “The extreme anguish, fear and trauma born of separating undocumented immigrant family members, which is particularly harmful to children, deeply offend our highest values. It is wrong and unjustifiable.”

The OU signed the letter just two days after it hosted Sessions at its Washington, D.C., annual conference. The attorney general talked to the group about the need for the U.S. to protect religious liberty for faith-based groups. But a day after the June 13 conference, the OU came out against the administration’s policy of separation. On Friday it signed the letter.

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