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A Rabbi and a DACA Recipient Call for the Dream Act

A Rabbi and a DACA Recipient Call for the Dream Act

Before members of Congress leave Washington for the holidays, they need to rectify a crisis of their and the Trump administration’s own making. If they fail to pass a clean Dream Act to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, 800,000 young people will face the risk of deportation in early March. Many DACA participants have already been unable to renew their status or make plans beyond March. To expel these young people would deny our heritage as a welcoming nation founded by immigrants. This is a stark moral challenge. It is also a personal matter. One of us, Elias, is a DACA recipient at risk of deportation.

​Elias was born in Caracas, Venezuela and moved legally to Florida with his mother and sister when he was six years old. His mother came to America on a work visa; with a path to a Green Card and eventual citizenship. Tragically, when Elias was in middle school, she died of kidney cancer, leaving Elias and his sister undocumented. Like many undocumented young people, Elias was not aware of his precarious status until he applied for a learner’s permit during high school. The tragedy of losing his mother was compounded by the fear of not knowing whether he and his sister would be able to stay in the United States — the country they knew as home.

In 2012, after years of legislative inaction on comprehensive immigration reform, the Obama administration created DACA, protecting the status of young people like Elias, in the U.S without documentation, through no fault of their own. They have gone to school, contributed to their communities, and served in the military, all while living with the risk of deportation. The DACA program assuaged that fear, offering Elias — who was 15 years old when it was created in 2012 — and his sister a measure of stability and security.

DACA meant that Elias could get his learner’s permit, and eventually earn a Kraft Scholarship and attend Brandeis University, where he is currently a sophomore. It meant that he could pursue his education and live an American life — without fear of deportation or stress of an uncertain future.

Now, Elias’s future is in jeopardy. In September, President Trump announced that he would end the DACA program in March 2018, unless Congress acts. Immediately, hundreds of thousands of lives have been thrown into chaos. The ramifications are already severe. For example, Elias’s grandfather recently passed away in Venezuela. Without the protection of DACA, he was unable to travel to attend his funeral.

If we cancel DACA, we will be shunning a generation of bright young immigrants who are, in all the ways that matter, Americans.

This is not who we are.

Rabbi Pesner’s own family experienced the best of America’s immigration story when his grandma Fannie arrived in the United States at the age of 16. Fleeing Russia after witnessing her town’s rabbi dragged through the street by Cossacks, Fannie dreamed of a better life for her family. She found it in New York, where her children and grandchildren were able to experience freedom, safety, and opportunity. 

Our American identity as a nation of immigrants being challenged. The Trump Administration’s decision to rescind DACA — and Congress’s failure to act swiftly to protect this vital program — is a misguided and dangerous choice. As Jews and as Americans, we will not accept this. 

In the Torah — the first five books of the Hebrew Bible — we are called 36 times to welcome the stranger. This, combined with the Jewish community’s shared experience as immigrants and refugees, from Ancient Egypt of the Exodus, to the displaced persons camps in Europe that followed the Holocaust, to the present, informs our commitment to smart and compassionate immigration policies, including the Dream Act.

In Leviticus 19:34, God commands the Israelites: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself.” We are called to welcome the stranger. But with DACA participants, our task is easier. They are not strangers. DACA participants, also called Dreamers, are already firmly established within the American community.

The American immigration system cries out for comprehensive reform. Too many people are forced into the shadows, too many families are held apart. DACA is admittedly a patch, but it is a vital one. Ending it and deporting the participants will do nothing but harm our country.

We urge Congress to reinstate the program without any more hesitation. We urge everyone to hold their representatives accountable to protect Dreamers and their families by passing the clean Dream Act of 2017 before the end of the year. The urgency cannot be overstated. There is no time for delay.

Mr. Rosenfeld is a student at Brandeis University. He was born in Venezuela and raised in Florida. Rabbi Pesner is the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. 

Published: 12/19/2017