ROCKVILLE (MD) –– “We will fight these new policies with everything we’ve got.”
This was the response of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington to President Donald Trump’s then-anticipated executive order to restrict many refugees from seeking safety in America and bar visas from being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
In their statement, released on Thursday January 26, the JCRC said that such policies would betray “the Jewish and American values we cherish” and that welcoming refugees is, in a spin on the President’s catchphrase, “part of what has truly made America great.”
The executive order was signed into law on Friday January 27, but the JCRC statement a day earlier was prompted by coverage of a leaked draft of the order entitled “Executive Order––Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.” This draft was one of four, on various subjects, given to online news outlet Vox by an undisclosed source on Tuesday January 24.
Vox has said they did not publish the documents immediately since they were as-yet unable to verify their authenticity, but that changed after identical versions of two of the four memos were signed into law as executive orders on Wednesday afternoon. Vox published all four documents later that day.
The JCRC emphasized in their statement that the “overwhelming majority” of refugees seeking entry to the United States are civilians whose lives have been thrown into chaos by events beyond their control. At the same time, it recognized that a rigorous process of background checks is still necessary to protect against foreign terrorists attempting to enter the US as refugees.
“The Torah teaches, ‘You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,’” the statement said. “Our history as Jews, and of repeatedly fleeing persecution, makes us sensitive to and compassionate for those who suffer similar fates and experiences and we believe that refugees should be treated with compassion and dignity.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told the press January 25 that there was no set date for issuing new rules on immigration because the “nature of them has not been decided yet,” but this changed over the weekend.
On Saturday January 28, which was also Holocaust Memorial Day, Trump signed an executive order suspending all refugee resettlement into the US for 120 days and refugee resettlement from Syria indefinitely. He also suspended entry by citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen— on immigrant or non-immigrant visas for 90 days. (On January 29, the order was clarified as to not affect green card holders.
Rachel Kohn is the Editor in Chief of Kol HaBirah.