We Can Start by Listening to Immigrant Leaders

Jews everywhere have been horrified to see the beginnings of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, which threatens to shatter families and communities and send people back to the dangerous circumstances they fled.

This was happening under President Barack Obama, and now President Donald Trump has set in motion a massive expansion of the deportation machine, including greatly expanding the definition of who will be targeted for deportation.

Haunted by ominous echoes of past experiences, many Jewish congregations and private individuals have been quick to suggest providing physical sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Forward editor Jane Eisner expressed concerns about synagogues (and churches) offering sanctuary because, she fears, the civil disobedience sanctuary entails might encourage conservative religious organizations to increase their own civil disobedience to achieve ends with which people like Eisner and myself deeply disagree.

I seriously doubt this, though. These conservative religious organizations already have all of the (alternative) facts they need, not to mention a divine mandate based on their interpretation of the Bible, to justify the actions they want to take.

I am proud of the Jewish community for the genuine concern and desire to help expressed in our rush to offer sanctuary. As co-chair of the board of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, I have a sense both of what it takes to provide long-term physical sanctuary — extensive volunteer work, significant financial resources and a network of relationships with allied institutions — and also the best way to mobilize these resources, by working to support immigrants in less intense but no less necessary ways.

The first step for anyone seeking to offer support to immigrants is to find out what immigrants themselves need.

The support that immigrant leaders in my organizations are asking for now is for people to volunteer in a grassroots rapid response to immigration raids and for congregations to join and thereby increase its influence on all levels of government.

If we are responding to immigrant leaders’ requests now, we will be better equipped in the event that they do ask for long-term physical sanctuary. What’s perhaps more important is that we will be strengthening these immigrant-led organizations, increasing their ability to protect themselves and also increasing the power they can bring to the collective movement on behalf of all groups targeted in Trump’s America.

Rabbi Michael Ramberg is co-chair of the board of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.

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