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Immigration

It’s that time of year! The newest class of Eisendrath Legislative Assistants arrived at the RAC two weeks ago, and jumped right into the Washington, D.C.

By Jenny Swift

When I was a senior in high school, the question I was asked by family and friends more times than I would like was where I would be attending college next year. For students who are undocumented the question might be different: what will you be doing next year? It’s a small difference, but a noticeable one. Tens of thousands of children who have grown up in this county and have attended and graduated from public schools are stuck, without the opportunity to advance, because the documentation required to apply to college, and more importantly, federal aid, is often out of the grasp of students whose parents brought them to this country when they were small children. Future doctors, lawyers, teachers, and the scientist who will cure cancer are all unable to reach their true potential due to immigration laws that keep children down, not raise them up to achieve the American dream.

The immigration debate has been less of a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill than it was last year or the year before. However, the Department of Homeland Security and many of the courts are poised to make significant changes for how undocumented immigrants and immigrant communities are treated in the United States. The part of President Obama’s executive action that ended the controversial Secure Communities program is being slowly implemented throughout throughout DHS, as thousands of DHS officers are being trained in the new enforcement priorities.

Immigration reform might be one of the most divisive political issues of our time, but one of the main tenets behind it—that undocumented immigrants who are already living here should be allowed to stay in the United States—has widespread support. According to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, 72% of all Americans believe that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country, if certain requirements are met. On this point, voters across the political spectrum are united: a path to citizenship or permanent residency is supported by a majority of Democrats (80%), Republicans (56%), and Independents (76%).

According to a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute, the number of unaccompanied children is supposed to drop from its recent spike in 2013 and 2014, from 68,000 last year to a projected 39,000 this year. Though the United States’ resources might not be as stretched in dealing with new entrants this year, many children are still having trouble getting the support they need to remain and sustain themselves in America.

In a much-anticipated court ruling on Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled not to lift the injunction from a lower court on President Obama’s signature executive action on immigration. This ruling means that, until the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the case, the Obama administration cannot move forward with plans to implement reforms to the Department of Homeland Security, such as the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program that is expected to provide relief from deportation for over four million undocumented people.

This week marks the start of a new book of Torah: the Book of Numbers. This week’s portion, B’midbar, or “In the Wilderness”, recounts the census-taking of entire Israelite community commanded of Moses by God. The Israelites are sorted by tribe and all men over the age of 20 are counted, as God commands, “head by head,” with special instructions for the Levites.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to deliver the following words before the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism at the RAC's Consultation on Conscience:

Whether you observe Passover according to the strict rules of Jewish law, or you attend one family Seder, or whether your Passover observance is watching The Prince of Egypt, or whatever traditions, practices or customs you find meaningful, the weeks leading up to Passover (April 3-11, 2015) feel like a Jewish March Madness. Between planning Seders, cleaning your house of chametz or mentally preparing yourself for a week of matzah, there’s a lot to get done and it always feels like not enough time.

As we approach the holiday of Passover, I’m starting to think of the commandment in the Haggadah: "in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt." The commandment has always stuck with me as a call for empathy with our Jewish ancestors, yet after working on immigration reform for the past year, I see the commandment as a way of forming a connection to our immigrant history. For what is “coming forth from Egypt” but immigrating to another land?