D. Dina Friedman: Building back beyond where we’ve been

  • In this Jan. 20 photo, President Joe Biden waits to sign his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. AP

Published: 2/17/2021 2:18:14 PM

There’s an old Yiddish story: A man asks the rabbi how he can study Torah when his wife and seven children are so noisy. The rabbi tells him to bring his chickens into the house. The chickens squawk and run around, making a big mess. “Rabbi,” the man says. “It’s even worse now!” “Bring your cow into the house,” the rabbi says. “And your horse.” With the cow and the horse in the tiny house, there’s more noise, and nowhere to sit. “Rabbi, this can’t be right!” The man is about to lose his mind in the chaos. The rabbi strokes his beard and says, “Take the animals out of the house.” The man follows the rabbi’s instructions. What a wise rabbi! He smiles and sits down in the quiet to study.

This is where we are right now. In defeating Trump, we’ve taken the chickens out of the house. We’re exhilarated by the relative quiet, but our original problems are still here. While we applaud the executive orders that revoked the Muslim ban, strengthened the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, defunded the border wall, ended the Migration Protection Protocols program, and halted some deportations — policies that help reverse Trump’s demonization of immigrants and publicly affirm America as a nation built on the hopes and dreams of our immigrant ancestors, we’re urgently aware that much more needs to be done, immediately.

People who have been waiting at the border for months — or years — are still being told to wait. Many of them have family in the U.S. The humane response would be to let them cross, quarantine in the U.S., and then let them join their families until their cases are heard.

The deportation moratorium (which we expect will be reinstated after it’s appealed in court) doesn’t apply to anyone who crossed after Nov. 1, 2020. But their situations are just as dire as those who crossed before that arbitrary date. When our group, the Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice, visited the refugee camp at Matamoros last February, we heard many firsthand stories from people who left because gangs said they’d kill them — or worse, kill their children.

Many people did get killed by the cartel. One man sent us a picture of his murdered nephew, covered in blood, that the gangs sent him as a retaliation message. That picture haunts us every day. It’s immoral to use the Centers for Disease Control order (Title 42) as an excuse to expel the 320,000 fleeing violence who have come since the pandemic. We need to give all asylum-seekers due process

Biden’s executive order doesn’t expressly prevent ICE from detaining people who aren’t security risks, and it gives ICE leeway in deciding whether individual immigrants are truly a threat to public safety.

The recent Netflix documentary series, “Immigration Nation,” featured ICE officers bragging that they could arrest and deport anyone they wanted to. Considering many ICE staff are aligned with Trump’s policies, we need a system to make sure ICE isn’t overstepping its boundaries. Already, we’re hearing accounts about deportations continuing despite the executive order.

Were it not for a recent emergency rally in New York City and an outpouring of phone calls to legislators, ICE may have followed through with their plan to deport many people at a Louisiana detention facility to Honduras, including Javier Castillo Maradiaga, a man who has been in the U.S. since he was 7.  

We’re also concerned about the damage done to thousands of families through the MPP program, many of whom gave up and went elsewhere after months in dangerous conditions and extreme weather. They should get a second chance to have their asylum cases heard. The American Immigration Council has a detailed plan that would allow the Biden administration to develop a staggered admission process for both current and former families who were stranded in Mexico to have their cases heard.

We’re pleased that Biden is offering legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents, many of whom have worked, raised families, contributed to their communities, and paid taxes here for years. Yet, this will be a push to pass in this polarized political climate.

Pundits are already weighing how championing this legislation will affect voters in 2022. But we shouldn’t be thinking about politics when this is a moral issue — a matter of life and death for so many. Let’s hope our better angels prevail and we can truly “build back better,” and go beyond simply letting the chickens out of the house. 

D. Dina Friedman lives in Hadley. She is a member of the Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice.

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