How you can help shut down Homestead and #EndChildDetention

Join our campaign to shut down a for-profit migrant child detention center
May 28, 2019Rabbi Ethan Bair

This Mother’s Day, southern Florida Jews and hundreds of others marched to demand the closure of Homestead—the only private, for-profit emergency detention center for migrant youth in the country. We showed up again on Memorial Day, attempting to deliver letters written by children on the outside. We held our own children’s hands tighter as we imagined conditions for those inside the detention center: sleeping hundreds to a room, prohibited from touching or hugging, prevented from writing (a pen or pencil could be a weapon, after all).

Away from their guardians and loved ones, the children inside Homestead are detained indefinitely. Forced to wake up at 6:00 a.m., they follow prison-like schedules. They receive inadequate, unregulated education, and their parents are rarely consulted about health care decisions. Comprehensive Health Services, the private company that runs the detention center located south of Miami for the federal government, receives $750 per child per day — an incentive to detain the children for as long as possible. When undocumented adult guardians come forward to remove a child from custody, they risk arrest and deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As Jews, we cannot stay quiet while children are held in these inhumane conditions. Now is the time to show up for detained immigrant children in our country. As we do, we remind each other and our government that we, as Jews, value the life of every child. We invite you to join us and the campaign to #EndChildDetention.

You can join the campaign by:

  1. Traveling to Florida to join in the June 16 vigil and rally to close Homestead down register here and make your travel plans soon! Logistics are being posted on this page

  2. ​Signing the petition here.

  3. Observing “End Child Detention Shabbat” in your congregation to raise awareness and send a prayer on June 14-15. You can use T'ruah's resources, facilitating a text study about the book of Ruth as it relates to immgiration policy or remembering detained migrant children through liturgy. If you do decide to raise awareness about detention on Shabbat or Shavuot, please log your commemoration as a solidarity event. 

On Shavuot, we read Megillat Ruth: The Book of Ruth. As we strive to realign our hearts and minds with the covenant between our people and God through commitment to Torah on Shavuot, Megillat Ruth shows us how to live out this covenant in the world. Through the story of Ruth and Naomi’s escape from famine and journey to Naomi’s ancestral homeland, Canaan, Megillat Ruth offers role models for integrating the ethics of Torah into our personalities and deeds. Ruth commits to stay by Naomi’s side physically and spiritually; Boaz extends kindness to Ruth — a foreigner — by permitting her to glean directly behind the harvesters of his field; and Boaz redeems Ruth, which affords official social status to both Ruth and her mother-in-law.

This season, we are called upon to live out the kindness, responsibility, commitment and covenant embodied by the Book of Ruth.

In addition to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the #EndChildDetention campaign is supported by a coalition of Jewish organizations — T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, HIAS, Bend the Arc and the National Council of Jewish Women — and in partnership with the American Friends Service Committee, United We Dream, We Count! and many other immigrant-led organizations. As we collectively demand the closure of Homestead, we understand that the goal must be keeping families together and out of cages. And the definition of family must be expansive enough to include aunts, uncles, grandparents, and designated relatives beyond biological parents.

We at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach committed to doing immigrant justice work this past January. Ever since one of our leaders alerted us to the situation at Homestead, we have been holding house meetings and laser-focused our work on this immigrant-led campaign. But this is not a Miami or Florida issue; this affects the soul of our country. It is unacceptable that children are being held in harsh conditions while a for-profit company directly benefits from their indefinite detention. We refuse to accept this — both as Jews and as Americans.

This Shavuot and Father’s Day, let us take action on behalf of all the “Ruths” — the migrants detained unethically at Homestead and throughout our country — and let us start by focusing on those most vulnerable among them: children.

The RAC's participation in the #EndChildDetention coalition is part of the Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus Initiative for Immigrant and Refugee Justice. Announced in April 2019, the initiative is funded by a multi-year gift and will help the Union for Reform Judaism and the RAC advocate on a federal, state, provincial and local level on issues related to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. 

A graduate of Oberlin College and a former Fulbright scholar in Berlin, Rabbi Bair grew up in Boston and was ordained at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles in 2011. From 2013-2018, he served as the Senior/Solo Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Reno, NV. Now, as Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, he also leads the congregation’s social justice engagement. Rabbi Bair identifies as part of a new generation of Jewish leaders for whom denominations are secondary to transformational Jewish experience.


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