Sara Beltran-Hernandez, 26, from El Salvador, a mother of two young children, was bound by her hands and feet and removed by wheelchair from Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth late Wednesday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who brought her to a detention facility in Alvarado, Texas. She was awaiting emergency surgery for a brain tumor.
Beltran-Hernandez was picked up by immigration agents in November 2015 while trying to get from El Salvador to New York to visit her mother and other relatives who live in Queens. She has been detained ever since at the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, while her family petitioned for asylum, citing threats of violence against her, from a domestic partner, among others.
Guadalupe Olivas Valencia threw himself off a bridge on Wednesday.
Valles de Espinoza said she believed her uncle threw himself off the bridge “in desperation over the deportation” because he had had trouble finding work in Mexico.
“He was doing this to take care of his children,” she said. “They were his entire life.”
We read in today’s portion:
20 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 21 You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. 22 If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me, 23 and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
9 You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
According to the Rabbis of the Talmud (BT Bava Mezia 59b), the Torah admonishes us about the treatment of strangers no fewer than 36 times. No other commandment is repeated so often.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks taught that to be a Jew is to be a stranger. “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is why Abraham is commanded to leave land, home and father’s house; why he is told that his descendants would be “strangers in a land not their own”; why Moses had to suffer personal exile before assuming leadership of the people; why the Israelites underwent persecution before inheriting their own land; and why the Torah is so insistent that this experience – the retelling of the story on Pesach, along with the never-forgotten taste of the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery – should become a permanent part of their collective memory.” Indeed, our memories of bondage and exile are meant to protect us against the impulses of exploitation, oppression, and xenophobia. A history of alienation and slavery, the memories of humiliation and strangeness are meant to prevail against intolerance.
The current president of the United States campaigned on a promise to effect a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Now he is trying to deter some refugees (many fleeing persecution in Central America), and to ban other refugees (many fleeing persecution in the Middle East), from entering the United States.
On December 2, 1783 – George Washington said: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”
How many of the St. Louis — the ship full of refugees turned away from the United States in 1939 and returned to Europe, where most were murdered by the Nazis — would have lived and their stories and lives flourished here if we had welcomed them?
We all know that the Frank children were murdered by the Nazis, but what is less known is the way Anne’s fate was sealed by a callous fear of refugees, among the world’s most desperate people. A volunteer found that plea for help in 2005 when she was sorting old World War II refugee files in New York City. It looked like countless other files, until she saw the children’s names. Along with the letter were many others by Otto Frank, frantically seeking help to flee Nazi persecution and obtain a visa to America, Britain or Cuba — but getting nowhere because of global indifference to Jewish refugees…
Some object: But Jews weren’t a threat the way Syrian refugees are! In the 1930s and ’40s, though, a world war was underway and Jews were widely seen as potential Communists or even Nazis. There were widespread fears that Germany would infiltrate the U.S. with spies and saboteurs under the cover that they were Jewish refugees.
“When the safety of the country is imperiled, it seems fully justifiable to resolve any possible doubts in favor of the country, rather than in favor of the aliens,” the State Department instructed in 1941. The New York Times in 1938 quoted the granddaughter of President Ulysses S. Grant warning about “so-called Jewish refugees” and hinting that they were Communists “coming to this country to join the ranks of those who hate our institutions and want to overthrow them.”
After the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews, a poll found that 94 percent of Americans disapproved of Nazi treatment of Jews, but 72 percent still objected to admitting large numbers of Jews. The reasons for the opposition then were the same as they are for rejecting Syrians or Hondurans today: We can’t afford it, we should look after Americans first, we can’t accept everybody, they’ll take American jobs, they’re dangerous and different.
“Refugees” are people found to have a “well-founded fear of persecution” on particular grounds, who undergo months or years of background checks before they are allowed to come to the U.S. “Asylees” are people recognized as refugees after having come to the U.S.; they undergo extensive background checks too.
The Refugee Act of 1980, 8 U.S.C. § 1101, begins:
The Congress declares that it is the historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands, including, where appropriate, . . . aid for necessary transportation and processing, admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concerns to the United States, and transitional assistance to refugees in the United States. . . . The objectives of this Act are to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted.
Our law says foreigners have the right to ask for refuge, outside our country, at the border, or from within. It says we respond. We hear them. We adjudicate. We admit. We resettle. We absorb. And we set aside money to pay for it.
Let’s keep things in perspective. Eight hundred thousand refugees have been admitted to the United States since the 9/11 attack. Americans killed by refugee terrorists: zero. Depending on how you slice the numbers, American deaths from terror attacks worldwide since 9/11: under 400. American deaths from U.S. gun violence since 9/11: almost 400,000.
In the words of Nicholas Kristof, Today, to our shame, Anne Frank is a Syrian girl. Or a Sudanese, or a Somali, or a Honduran.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “This is no time for neutrality. We Jews cannot remain aloof or indifferent. We, too, are either ministers of the sacred or slaves of evil.”
To adapt the words of Pastor Niemoller:
First they came for the Muslims
Then they came for the Trans kids
Then they came for the immigrants
Mark Oppenheimer wrote in an article in the Washington Post last week: it doesn’t always start with us, but it always ends with us
Next week, we read: build me a sanctuary and I will dwell within you.
God will dwell within us because we make space. Because we recognize God’s presence.
Rabbi Art Green teaches that the 2nd commandment (no graven images) exists because the image of God is already present in this world – in people – all people. If we make images, we forget that God is present. If we make a sanctuary for others, we make a sanctuary for God.
The Sanctuary Movement was a religious and political campaign in the United States that began in the early 1980s to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict. It responded to federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans. At its peak, Sanctuary involved over 500 congregations in the United States that, by declaring themselves official “sanctuaries,” committed to providing shelter, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees. In 1984, the Rabbinical Assembly wrote:
The Rabbinical Assembly endorses the concept of Sanctuary as provided by synagogues, churches and other communities of faith in the United States.
Today, a growing movement of immigrant and over 800 faith communities doing what Congress and the Administration refuse to do: protect and stand with immigrants facing deportation. On Friday, T’ruah, A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the organization representing over 1800 rabbis and cantors, will hold a conference call to help congregations explore the possibilities and implications of becoming a sanctuary congregation.
Over the next few weeks, we will read about all the details of building the sanctuary. As we read, let us consider the command we read today – to care for the stranger. Let us think about creating of our sanctuary, a sanctuary for others.
As our portion concluded, we read:
3 Moses went and repeated to the people all the commands of the Lord and all the rules; and all the people answered with one voice, saying, “All the things that the Lord has commanded we will do!” 4 Moses then wrote down all the commands of the Lord. Early in the morning, he set up an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He designated some young men among the Israelites, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed bulls as offerings of well-being to the Lord. 6 Moses took one part of the blood and put it in basins, and the other part of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!”
May we continue to affirm the commitment our ancestors made.
Kristof – Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl
Oppenheimer – http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-antisemitism-jews-trump-alt-right-20170218-story.html
Jeffrey Heller – https://rideforhumanrights.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/afraid-of-nothing/