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Executive order canceled 129,000 immigrant visas

"The refugee crisis, the millions that are displaced…Now is not the time to be spectators, we need to be involved: Generous with our time, money and with our feet." --Rabbi Scott Meltzer

By Thea Skinner  

February 6, 2017 (San Diego) -- Days before U.S. District Judge James Robard halted an executive order to bar immigrant travel, the Jewish community and official leaders organized at Congregation Beth El in La Jolla on February 2nd.

Such interfaith and intercommunity relations are the focus of solutions to what is emerging as a national climate of hate. Following President Donald Trump’s Jan 27th executive order that barred entry to refugees and citizens from 7 nations, community leaders here urged action and support in lifting the ban, along with a rapid advancement of several key state policies over the next 120 days.

Legislative topics included Senate Bills 6 and 54, along with immigration actions in the 1940s that gave rise to today’s refugee policies in conjunction with shared values. 

“We have come here tonight seeking comfort of community not as Democrats, as Jews, as a wandering people looking for home,” said Rabbi Yael Ridberg of Congregation Dor Hadas in opening remarks inside the packed synagogue. “Thousands of years ago, our ancestors’ struggles has deepened into our consciousness. From the narrowness of a tight place we were called out more than once in spiritual (aim). We know how to rise above closed minds. We have seen doors slammed shut.”

He recalled immigration legislation pushed through keep America free of “suspicious immigrants.”  Many refugees were denied entry during World War II, including some who perished in the Holocaust.

Current U.S. refugee policy is a result of the Holocaust of the 1940s that oppressed and killed scores of the Jewish faith.

California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria, 78th District, stated, “We will be a beacon of home to the people across the country. As your state elected official, I ask you not to be complacent and thank you all for being here.” 

Assemblymember Gloria mentioned the importance of the January 24 bill amendments to SB 6 and SB 54, which may take effect with or without the Governor’s signature. SB 6 requires the state’s Department of Social Services to work with nonprofits and SB 54 holds several requirements including “within 3 months after the effective date of the bill, the Attorney General to publish model contractual provisions for all state agencies that partner with private vendors for data collection purposes to ensure that those vendors comply with the confidentiality policies, as specified.”

Jewish Family Services, JFS, is one of four nonprofits in the county to resettle refugees of all backgrounds and faiths. Michael Hopkins CEO of JFS, also a representative of the Leichtag Foundation, which provides grants and began the Syrian Refugee Initiative in 2015, echoed excessive vetting already in place to establish refugee status.   

“In 2016, 4,000 individuals from 25 different countries were resettled. Because of the executive order, 129,000 people had their immigration process canceled,” Hopkins said. “It seems like extreme vetting to me to meet with so many agencies….Less than one percent of worldwide refugees are resettled. Our government selects you. Most refugees wait five years… Not one has been involved in an act of terrorism.”

Councilwoman Barbara Bry, District 1, mentioned that the San Diego Affairs Board has made the city a “knowledge capital” open to innovative companies, some whose leaders were born outside of the U.S.

“Our national identity is a patchwork of diverse cultures. I want to leave the world better for my children and grandchildren. I want them to know I stand with refugees,” she said. “I am honored to be here in my own synagogue. I grew-up in a Jewish household outside of Philadelphia. History has shown us singling out religious groups betrays our values. Shutting out immigrants is not only the wrong thing to do, it is short sighted.”

Rabbi Scott Meltzer of Ohr Shalom Synagogue stated, “We are a people that think and process. Do not run and hide or think throwing a bucket of water on it fixes it. This is the time there is no running, no quick fit.”

"Remember this moment. You’re beautiful. Three things,” he listed:

1. The bush was not consumed.

2. Do not stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds.

3. Perhaps we have the power we have for exactly this moment.

"The refugee crisis, the millions that are displaced. Now is not the time to be spectators, we need to be involved: Generous with our time, money and with our feet," Rabbi Meltzer said.  “In one month we celebrate Purim."

Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated March 11th and 12th, commemorating the saving of Jewish people from Haman, whom planned to kill all Jews.

Rabbi Ridberg closed in similar sentiment, "Our call to action is because the protection of the vulnerable is vital to our shared humanity...We are afraid we are next," said Rabbi Ridberg. "We wandered because we were different....Because we are refugees, our Judaism got us rejected on our very shores...We will be the clarion call for every value."