The Injustice of False Choices

December 13, 2023Ellen Garfinkle

Congress is currently working to pass a funding bill that would address a wide range of global and domestic efforts. Including military aid for Israel, humanitarian aid for Palestinians, and $1 billion for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which will help enhance the safety of our congregations across the country. The bill also includes funding for Ukraine, Taiwan and more.

The bill has failed to move forward, however, because of efforts by some members of Congress to include contentious provisions that make harmful, extreme and permanent changes to U.S. immigration policy, including undermining the U.S. asylum system. While there is broad agreement that the U.S. immigration system is broken and in need of significant reform, inserting this divisive issue into a bill that aims to fund time urgent needs that serve U.S. interests is wrong. As negotiations continue, we are deeply concerned by these efforts that would harm U.S. leadership abroad and weaken security at home. Congress must not pit vital military aid to Israel, humanitarian aid to Palestinians, and nonprofit security funding against protecting immigrant communities.

Current problematic immigration proposals around this bill include raising the credible fear standard, codifying asylum transit bans, and expanding expedited removal. Here is what all this really means:

  1. Raising the Credible Fear Standard: When migrants come to the U.S., they have the right to a credible fear interview. These interviews are preliminary screenings where migrants must prove a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country in order to qualify for asylum. These interviews aim to keep people eligible for asylum from being deported , but they are often conducted in detention facilities without attorneys, putting vulnerable migrants in high pressure interviews shortly after their arrival. Because of this, the standard for passing is meant to be low, as to avoid deporting migrants with legitimate asylum claims. Raising this standard will greatly increase deportations and send many migrants back to unsafe home countries.
  2. Codifying Asylum Transit Bans: The Biden administration currently has an asylum ban in place, which requires migrants who pass through a third country on their way to the U.S. to apply for and be denied asylum in the third country before they can apply in the U.S. The only way around this is for migrants to obtain an appointment through an app, which is known to malfunction and create a backlog. The current ban is intended to be temporary but codifying this process via the funding bill Congress is considering would make it permanent and force people to remain in dangerous conditions as they attempt to secure appointments for asylum in the U.S., undermining U.S. commitments to asylum seekers under American and international law.
  3. Expanding Expedited Removal: Expedited removal refers to a fast-track deportation without appeal. Current law stipulates that only those apprehended within 100 miles of a border can be placed into expedited removal, but the proposal some in Congress are pushing recommends expanding this ability nationwide, which would subject people to immediate deportation anywhere in the U.S. This would lead to increased instances of family separation and greater racial profiling by immigration authorities.

As a community descended from immigrants and refugees, with a long history of persecution and sojourning in foreign lands, we as Jews are particularly sensitive to the plight of today's immigrants. In Leviticus, we are told that "the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (19:33-34). Our own history as strangers reminds us of the struggles that immigrants face and the need for genuine efforts to improve our immigration system.

It is crucial that we protect U.S. interests and values by telling Senators to quickly pass a clean supplemental funding bill that includes military aid to Israel, humanitarian aid to Palestinians, and nonprofit security funding against protecting immigrant communities and excludes harmful asylum and border policy changes.

Tell the Senate to provide aid to Israel and the Palestinians without harmful changes to U.S. immigration policy.

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