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You shall not afflict the stranger, nor oppress him[/her]: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21-24)

Dear Friends,

I recently came across the words I shared at services after visiting the Arizona-Mexico border as part of a fact-finding mission sponsored by the JCPA—the Jewish Council for Public Affairs—a number of years ago. Here is one of the stories I shared that evening:

While we were in Mexico we visited with a number of families who had fled their countries of origin in search of a better life. We spoke with a woman who has five children, the youngest of which are one-year-old twins. After she was threatened by the Venezuelan government and one of the cartels, and her father’s pharmacy was ransacked, she knew there was no future for her children. She and her husband picked up the kids and set out for a better life. The journey was harrowing but, eventually, they made their way to the shelter.

As she told her story the tears streamed down her face. Our eyes weren’t dry either.

She then told us about two little girls who were in the shelter with their 21-year-old brother. They had watched as both their parents were assassinated. After burying them the three packed their meager possessions and left their village. They too eventually made their way to the shelter.

The woman paused for a moment and then said, “They have no one so, while they are here, we have adopted them.”

This woman, her husband and their five children have nothing. Nothing. And yet, their hearts are so large that they have taken these two orphans under their wings.

I then observed,

“These certainly are not the ‘drug dealers, rapists and gang bangers’ we have been led to believe sit on our border waiting to invade. They are people desperate for a better life.”

As I sit and reflect upon that trip now a few key points come to mind.

First, the human suffering of those desperate to cross the border is often only outdone by the suffering they endured that prompted them to flee their homes in the first place.

Second, our immigration policy remains broken as it neither secures our country nor treats those who are tired, poor and part of the huddled masses with the respect they deserve.

Third, the political games that have been played in Washington that have resulted in an inability to address the immigration issue are disrespectful to the citizens of this nation AND those who would seek to BECOME citizens of this nation.

And finally, when you dehumanize those who are seeking a better life by calling them “illegals,” and you use them as political props in an attempt to “own” your political opponents, you need to look into the mirror and your moral compass needs to be reset.

The immigration issue is complex. No one side has the answers. I certainly do not. But I do know this. When you mistreat the vulnerable to make your point, you aren’t looking for solutions. You are just being cruel.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen