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Over 1400 Jewish Clergy Deliver Letter to Congress Demanding Right to Asylum for Refugees

"As Jews we understand the heart of the refugee, and the current actions of our government echo some of the darkest moments of our own history."

A delegation of rabbis, attorneys, and advocates gathered on Capitol Hill on July 18 to deliver a letter signed by 1,400-plus Jewish clergy members to elected officials, calling on them to protect the essential legal right to seek asylum in the U.S.

A delegation of rabbis, attorneys, and advocates gathered on Capitol Hill on July 18 to deliver a letter signed by 1,400-plus Jewish clergy members to elected officials, calling on them to protect the essential legal right to seek asylum in the U.S. (Photo: HIAS)

Over 1,400 Jewish clergy-members signed a petition demanding lawmakers protect the right to request asylum in the U.S., citing the history of the Jewish people as a warning for today's treatment of immigrants.

"The Jewish people know what it means to be turned away and to be denied protection," the petition reads. "As Jews we understand the heart of the refugee, and the current actions of our government echo some of the darkest moments of our own history."

Activists from the advocacy group HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, delivered the petition (pdf) to lawmakers on July 18. 

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Congregation Albert in Albuquerque was one of the clergy on hand for the delivery. 

"The officials we met, from both sides of the aisle, were sympathetic to the necessity of providing humane treatment and facilities to those seeking asylum in the United States," said Rosenfeld. "I believe we made a difference."

President Donald Trump's war on immigrants has placed hundreds of migrants into overcrowded facilities and separated families in an attempt to use their punishment as a warning to other people trying to reach the country. The administration has also shut off avenues for claiming asylum at the border, instead demanding that people in need of aid go through a third country instead. 

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The HIAS petition, said HIAS Rabbi-in-residence Rachel Grant Meyer, is a direct response to the border crisis from the Jewish community.

"At this moment when the United States is abandoning its legacy as a nation of immigrants and refugees by rescinding its commitment to provide asylum to those fleeing violence and persecution, more than 1,400 Jewish clergy around the country heeded the urgent call to raise our voices to say that this is a moral disgrace for all Americans and, in particular, for Jewish Americans who know well the danger of turning away those in need of a safe place to call home," said Meyer.

"We pray that our elected officials will take seriously the tens of thousands of American Jews we represent and step up to ensure that our country continues to have a fair, humane, and expeditious asylum process," Meyer added.

That's part of the message of the petition letter, which calls to the history and mission of the Jewish faith in helping the less fortunate. 

"In Jewish tradition, there is no higher obligation than to save the life of another," the petition reads. "As Jewish clergy, we will not stay silent as our country turns its back on individuals fleeing danger."

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