Over 100 Jewish community leaders and activists from around the country staged a protest in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday, Jan. 17. Bend the Arc Jewish Action — along with a coalition of 17 other organizations — led the sit-in, during which participants demanded that Congress pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. The Capitol Police forcibly removed the protestors from the building and arrested 86 of them.
“Today, we came from all across the country to demonstrate what a policy rooted in love could look like,” said Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, in a press release following the action. Cotler was arrested during the protest.
As they sat in the rotunda, the group sang songs and chanted, "Let my people stay." This act of civil disobedience exemplified the spirit of the Jewish people’s clarion call for social justice, Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof or “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:18). “Fighting alongside Dreamers, and putting our own bodies on the line for them, is an expression of our deepest Jewish values. Congress must heed the will of the people and pass a clean Dream Act now,” Colter said.
In September 2017, the Trump Administration canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, enacted by the Obama administration in 2012, and gave Congress six months to find a legislative fix to avoid the deportation of the Dreamers.
“The nearly 800,000 kids given a reprieve from deportation by DACA — some still very young and many now grown up — are our children,” said Nancy Kaufman, CEO of National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), in a recent op-ed. “They learned English and most speak it fluently ... They have little or no memory of their country of origin. They are as American as anyone born here.”
To put the deportation of DACA recipients in perspective, consider this: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the entire estimated population of Washington, D.C., is 693,972. So, imagine every single Washingtonian — plus another 106,000 individuals living in the DC suburbs — deported. Gone. Think of Dupont Circle, Pennsylvania Avenue, Metro Center, and the entire city as a ghost town. That is the scale of DACA’s impact.
It is “extremely important to express our solidarity with Dreamers,” Kaufman explained, as they may lose their legal guest status to work and study in America. She described the advocacy event as a wonderfully collaborative initiative to not just advance social justice but also to “support families,” and said that the Jewish people “only need to look back into the last generation to see doors closed” to recent Jewish American immigrants.
“It really speaks to who we are as a Jewish community, and specifically as an American Jewish community,” said Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. She echoed Kaufman’s sentiments about the collective Jewish American memory of the immigrant experience. “As Americans, we’re deeply aware of our history as a nation of immigrants, and that throughout that history immigrants have been a source of strength for this country,” she said.
Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., who is Jewish, heard the message sent by the protesters. He called it a “powerful action by American Jews and Dreamers,” and also called on Congress to pass a clean Dream Act.
In 2017, HIAS and local refugee resettlement partners filed a lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration’s restrictions on refugees. While the refugee and DACA issues are separate, they are part of a “much larger anti-immigrant and anti-refugee” policy approach that is counter to the foundations that our country was founded upon, said Naomi Steinberg, senior director of policy and advocacy for HIAS.
These individuals are “Americans in every way besides paperwork,” Steinberg said.
By Jason Langsner
Jason Langsner is an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community. He is a second generation Jewish American whose grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Budapest, Hungary.