'Impatient with injustice': Rabbi Rick Jacobs' call for immigrant rights

July 28, 2019Rabbi Rick Jacobs

The following are Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs' prepared remarks for the speech he delivered at the Moral Monday mass gathering in El Paso on July 28, 2019.

My name is Rabbi Rick Jacobs, I lead the Reform Jewish Movement here in North America, the largest and most diverse Jewish denomination including two million people. I’m joined here by Rabbi Ron Segal the president of the CCAR, our rabbinic arm with over two thousand rabbis and by dozens of rabbis and cantors and lay leaders.

I’m here in El Paso this weekend because I worship a God who is impatient with injustice, a God who demands that migrants must not be wronged. But our obligation is so much greater. In Leviticus we’re commanded that “the migrant who sojourns with you shall be to you as your citizens;” And even more, we are commanded “to love the migrant as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Thirty-six times the Hebrew bible repeats this obligation. Yet the directive to love our neighbor is issued only once. Why? Because it is obvious and straightforward to love what is familiar. But to love the migrant, the stranger, the one who might not look like you, who might speak with an accent, or pray differently than you do, yet who is still loved by God - we must love them as well. In fact, today, we must love them even more. Today, they are vulnerable to hatred, to xenophobia, to violence, to separation, to deportation, to detention. Today, we are witnessing an unprecedented increase in cruel attacks on migrants, including zero-tolerance policies making it more difficult to legally enter the United States. Today, they need our love more than ever.

My faith requires me with every fiber of my being, to oppose the inhumane conditions in which infants, children and their parents are being caged – in overcrowded cage-like facilities, without diapers, forced to sleep on concrete floors, and to go without toothbrushes or showers for weeks; this disgraceful policy of deliberate cruelty is a moral affront to the values to which this nation aspires. It demands not that we look away, but that we look closer. That we draw the eyes of the nation to this place where our collective humanity is being questioned. Will we act now to stop the dehumanization of fathers and mothers who, like each of us, would do anything to protect their children and see them thrive? Or will we let this administration continue on a path that will leave our children and grandchildren asking us, “What did you do in the face of this inhumanity?”

What we are doing is coming here to bear witness and to act. To refuse to remain silent. To say clearly: Being an immigrant is not a crime. Being a refugee is not a crime. Seeking asylum is not a crime. Seeking a better life is not a crime.

We call on the administration to uphold the dignity of immigrants. To stop putting families in cages. To stop tearing children away from parents, and to stop denying asylum seekers their legal rights.

We call on Congress to stop funding detention and deportation by ICE and CBP. Invest in the wellbeing of our immigrant neighbors, not the policies that criminalize them. Fund more immigrant judges and provide more legal assistance to those migrants—thereby ensuring their legal rights are protected by our nation—rather than violated by our nation.

We are currently in the middle of the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the ancient temples that stood in Jerusalem that led to our exile. We know what it’s like to flee home, to face persecution. Our history would have been so much different had others stood up for us and other nations welcomed us. So this year, we mourn not only our own history but also the harm being inflicted on those who are fleeing home today. Like the Biblical Rachel who wailed, with bitter cries for her children (Jeremiah 31:15), “kol b’ramah nishmah,” so do we cry out for these migrants to our elected officials who have the power to change our country’s immigration system.

We join with our partners in the immigrant community and with other people of faith to urge the Administration to enact just and compassionate immigration policies now.

Our God who is impatient with injustice would have it no other way.

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