November 21, 2018

If not now, when will Dreamers be seen as Americans?

Immigration activists and DACA recipients take part in a rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

I am the oldest daughter of Mexican immigrants. My dad arrived in the United States in the late 1980s and was a beneficiary of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. He became a permanent resident and gained a pathway to citizenship in 1987. My mom became a U.S. citizen a year later, after she and my dad were married. I was born a year after that.

I grew up in Encino and attended Catholic schools. I traveled to Mexico every couple of years to visit family members and heard stories of my family’s struggles with living in poverty. I also saw the poverty in which many of my family’s neighbors lived.

[Larry Greenfield: Why Trump is right on DACA]

Here in Los Angeles, I saw the fear and anxiety in which many of my relatives lived because they, unlike my parents, were undocumented. The emotional and mental strain of their instability was agonizing. I watched, feeling powerless, as my cousins hid under the couch every time they heard a siren, in fear that their parents would get deported.

I noticed, too, the disproportionate finances of our households. My parents were homeowners, able to afford the private-school tuition for my sister and me, and able to afford going on vacation. My uncles lived in apartments and did not have the luxury of taking time off work for a vacation. They kept count of the years since they had seen the home they left for a better future.

I celebrated with my family as, one by one, my relatives became permanent residents and American citizens. We kept a tally of who was undocumented in our family, and as the number shrank, we naively came to believe that our worries were over.

But after the White House announced it planned to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)  program, which protects children of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents, many of those worries began to creep up. Not for myself, not for my family, but for Dreamers — the approximately 800,000 recipients covered by the program.

American all but in name, Dreamers entered the United States at the average age of 6, many even younger.

When DACA was established in 2012, its recipients were not offered a permanent residency or a pathway to citizenship. Instead, they received renewable two-year work permits and a Social Security number. Without fear of deportation, they entered the workforce and many enrolled in colleges and universities.

A Social Security number also offered DACA recipients the ability to obtain a driver’s license and to open bank and credit card accounts.

It is easy to take for granted obtaining a driver’s license when in California the law allows a person as young as 15 1/2 to get a driver’s permit. But having to decide whether to risk driving without a license is common for undocumented individuals. Not only must they live with the fear of getting pulled over or getting into an accident, they increase the risk for everyone else on the road because their driving skills are not fully vetted.

This is one of the ways in which the establishment of DACA benefited not only its recipients but the community at large. The access to a driver’s license has meant safer roads for all of us.

Another way in which the larger community benefits is through taxes that DACA recipients pay. A 2014 report by the American Immigration Council found that almost 60 percent of the DACA recipients surveyed had obtained a new job since qualifying for the program, and about 45 percent indicated that their earnings had increased.

While DACA recipients have benefited greatly from the program and have been shielded from deportation, recipients do not have a pathway to citizenship and therefore do not qualify for Social Security benefits. Nor can they apply for financial aid from the federal government.

As a result of President Donald Trump’s decision, DACA recipients whose permits expire after March 5, 2018, stand to lose the protection and benefits that the program provided, and now with the added fear that the government has the information on who they are and where they live.

Dreamers have grown up in this country with their right hand over their hearts, pledging their allegiance to the U.S. and believing in the promise of “liberty and justice for all.” The passing of the Dream Act by Congress is long overdue. Dreamers are American in all but name.

And if not now, then when will they be recognized as such?


Tracy Escobedo, a Los Angeles native, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a Jew by Choice.

Why Trump is right on DACA

President Donald Trump on Aug. 22. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s decision on “Dreamers” actually reflects a broadly held, nuanced consensus regarding the status of immigrants brought into this country as children of parents who entered illegally.

First, legal immigration is good for the United States, and the U.S. takes in more legal immigrants than any other nation. But there must be reasonable, debatable and annual limits.

[TRACY ESCOBEDO: When will Dreamers be seen as Americans?]

We are a nation of immigrants, and all Americans, born here or not, are equal citizens entitled to the full protection of the law and every opportunity to enjoy the American Dream. 

The administration has proposed prioritizing immigrants for our nation’s economic benefit and limiting the scope of family reunification to leverage the economic merit of applicants.

Silicon Valley, for instance, suggests we not deport tech graduates here on student visas once they have computer science degrees in hand. We invested in them, now they can invest in the U.S.

Next, illegal immigration is unlawful, as are sanctuary cities that violate federal law. No country allows illegal immigration, and many countries are much tougher than the U.S.

Illegal immigration results in human rights abuses by coyotes against suffering poor people and invites countries to dump their poor into the U.S. It’s corrupt and nefarious.

Businesses must not be allowed to hire illegals. This distorts the economy and drives down wages in the economy.

And Mexico, one way or another, should reimburse the United States for the decades-long purposeful strategy of exporting Mexican workers in return for importing hundreds of billions of dollars of remittances back to Mexico.

Third, our country will not round up 10 to 20 million unlawful residents and deport them. Our country will also not deport 800,000 Dreamers who work, pay taxes and go to school.

And fourth, Congress must reassert its constitutional authority and obligation to protect our borders and set immigration policy, denying federal aid to “sanctuary” states and cities.

Congress must clarify if Birthright Citizenship — which meant Black slaves and their progeny in the 19th century were full Americans — should continue to reward “birth tourism;” whether illegal immigrants may earn a path to citizenship, voting rights or the ability to run for office; and, finally, the federal penalty for employers hiring illegal workers.

States must decide on the welfare, educational and health benefits to be afforded undocumented workers and their families.

The Dreamers have already won. They have made it to America, built lives of generally good citizenship and are unlikely to be deported in big numbers due to the compassion and common sense of the American people, who respect the rule of law, with fair and reasonable policies regarding immigrants here illegally via border crossing or by over-staying visas.

But the critics of illegal immigration have also won the debate: No blanket amnesty or citizenship status for illegal entrants, except perhaps enlistees of the armed forces; and no patience for violent criminals, many of whom are repeat border violators who must be deported (along with a bill to the countries of origin for our troubles).

Advocates for resolute border security make economic, rule-of-law and national-security arguments for tougher standards and controls of both legal and illegal immigration.

Americans support both a border wall and advanced technologies to increase security in a world of jihadism and weapons of mass destruction.

President Trump, who has asserted his “love” for the Dreamers, is balancing his “America First” / “The Business of America Is Business” policies with the facts on the ground and his knowledge that legal immigration is American.

President Barack Obama repeatedly asserted he lacked unilateral authority to keep the Dreamers, but he did so anyway. President Trump has been well advised to return the policy issues to Congress.


Larry Greenfield has been a Fellow of the Claremont Institute, the Tikvah Advanced Institute, and the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He is former executive director of the California Republican Jewish Coalition, the Reagan Legacy Foundation, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

The untold story of DACA’s Israeli recipients

Picture in your mind a “Dreamer,” an immigrant brought to the United States as a child and now living without documentation in this country. Chances are you’re not picturing an Israeli. But here in Los Angeles, young undocumented Jews from Israel are among those facing the looming threat of deportation.

President Donald Trump’s administration recently rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, with a six-month delay to provide time for Congress to plan a path for DACA recipients to gain permanent legal status. Whether that pronouncement sticks remains unclear. 

After a meeting with Democratic leaders and a swirl of messages out of the White House, some of them contradictory, Trump said on Sept. 14 he supports legislation to protect the Dreamers, and further consideration of a wall on the southern border would be done separately.

The policy was created during President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012 as a temporary reprieve to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Trump’s Sept. 5 announcement has been roundly criticized by Democrats, many Republicans and Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jewish organizations.

There are an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients, the vast majority of them Latino, with 79 percent coming from Mexico. More than a quarter of the total live in California. At a Sept. 10 rally, hundreds of pro-immigration demonstrators gathered in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park, many holding signs written in Spanish and waving Mexican flags.

Israel isn’t among the two dozen countries where most DACA recipients originate. But for various reasons — often having to do with fraudulent legal advice given to their parents — these young Jews are caught in a legal limbo, unable to receive federal student aid or travel outside the country.

While their status is identical to that of other Dreamers, they are different in subtle ways, as their individual stories suggest. For example, because the number of Latinos facing deportation is so much larger, they tend to feel more comfortable sharing their concerns and anxieties with one another.

Not so for Jewish Dreamers. For many, their status is an embarrassing stigma, something they would just as soon hide from even their closest friends. 

On the other hand, because Jews are often lighter-skinned than Latinos, they tend not to be subjected to the stares and derision from citizens who support the administration’s decision to eliminate DACA protections.

Furthermore, Jewish Dreamers tend to be better off financially than those from other countries, a distinction that provides securities — even if temporary — that others might not have.

In the end, however, all Dreamers are equal in the eyes of a government policy that would remove them unless a change is forthcoming from a Congress that is deeply divided on immigration issues.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), one of more than a dozen Jewish House members, is among those who favor continuing protections for all Dreamers, including those from Israel.

“The history of the Jewish people is characterized by migration in search of safety and a better future, and I believe our own experience teaches us to empathize with the Dreamers, although relatively few are Jewish or came here from places like Israel,” he said in an email to the Journal. “The administration would treat these young people as unwanted guests in the only country they know. But I view Dreamers as part of the fabric of our nation and believe Congress must act to ensure these young people can continue to live and work in the United States without fear.”

Below are stories of a few undocumented Israeli immigrants. They agreed to share details of their lives with the Journal under the condition that their last names not be used, and in some cases, that their first names be changed to protect their identities. Although the specifics of their cases differ, they share a feeling of being Americans first and foremost, and face an uncertain future.

‘I don’t even remember what Israel looks like’

Bar, a 16-year-old high school junior in the San Fernando Valley, has known for her entire life that she was undocumented.

“It did suck not to be able to go to Israel and visit when all my friends would go,” she said. “All my family is in Israel.”

A resident of Sherman Oaks, her parents arrived on a tourist visa in 2001, when she was 6 months old. Their visas expired a year after they arrived.

“We were hoping we could fix everything before becoming illegal. We had other people giving us suggestions and it was wrong … bad advice, and we didn’t have the money at that point to fix it,” her father, Ron, said.

Ron ran a clothing factory in downtown Los Angeles and insisted on manufacturing in the U.S. but had to shutter the facility because of the high cost of labor.

“We’re paying all the debts that society is asking to pay, and we’re getting zero benefit out of it,” he said.

“I’m from L.A. This is where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t even remember what Israel looks like.” — Bar

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes but can’t collect benefits. He now runs a printing and packaging company that outsources to Mexico and China.

Bar’s mother, Karen, works for a catering business, serving and cooking food for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other big events.

Bar joined the DACA program late last year. Some of her friends know she’s undocumented and hope one day she’ll be able to join them on trips to Israel and Mexico. She took a driver education course and hopes to get a license soon but might need to apply for an AB 60 license, available for California residents regardless of immigration status, if her DACA status expires.

She’s been a member of the Tzofim movement (Israel’s scouts program) since seventh grade. Her younger sister and brother are scouts, too. They were born in the U.S. and are citizens.

Bar counsels younger kids in Tzofim. “They all tell me before summer starts, ‘We’re going to Israel,’ and I ask them how is that. Even the youngest kids tell me about their experiences in Israel and their family. I’m very excited to be able to go,” she said.

Bar works for a birthday party business where she paints little kids’ faces, dances with them and dresses up as characters from the popular Israeli children‘s show “Yuval Hamebulbal,” a dinosaur and a fire-fighting dog. After she graduates from high school, she expects to go to community college and transfer to a four-year university to study business and fashion design.

If the DACA program is canceled, putting her at risk of deportation, she said it would be “really, really upsetting.”

“I’m from L.A. This is where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t even remember what Israel looks like,” she said.

‘This affects kids who are pretty much American in every way’

Eli grew up in Beverly Hills and describes himself as “a typical Persian-Jewish kid” in all ways but one: He’s in the country illegally. He was born in Tel Aviv and came here in 1991, when he was 8 years old. His parents overstayed their visa when their green card application was denied.

He earned a degree from UCLA, paying his tuition out of his own pocket, and hoped to go to law school but knew he wouldn’t be allowed to practice. He struggled for years with low-paying jobs.

“A soon as I got my DACA [status] in December 2013, three months later I got hired by a Fortune 500 company,” he said. “I knew I had the ability all along but I couldn’t prove it, because I didn’t have access to a real job.”

Now in his mid-30s, he owns his own business, offering “professional services” to corporate clients.

Outside of a small group of friends and his girlfriend, nobody knows about his status.

“I don’t want to jeopardize my business or do anything that can cause harm to that. In the Persian-Jewish community people talk, and I don’t want that information out,” he said.

Eli is a fitness enthusiast, spending hours a day at the gym training in Brazilian jiu jitsu. He considers himself a hard worker, a self-made entrepreneur, and can’t understand why people wouldn’t want him to be a citizen. After all, he said, he had no say in his parents’ decision to come to the U.S. and overstay their visa.

“You can’t blame somebody who didn’t commit the crime,” he said. “If you pull somebody over and their grandson is in the backseat, you don’t give the grandson in the backseat a ticket.”

He knows plenty of Iranian-American Jews who support Trump, and he doesn’t fault them for it.

“None of them go to KKK or neo-Nazi rallies or anti-immigration rallies. They’re pro-Trump mostly because of his pro-Israel stance, and they make good money and want tax breaks,” he said.

But he said he thinks a lot of them do have a racial bias.

“They look down on Mexican immigrants as low-skilled labor. They mow their lawn and garden their backyard and take care of their kids. … A lot of them probably think we should send them back to Mexico. They don’t understand this affects kids who are pretty much American in every way other than the fact that they don’t have their citizenship here, don’t have their green card.”

‘I’ll take my American education and I’ll go somewhere else’

Rebecca’s parents came to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. They planned to return to Israel after their B-2 tourist visa expired.

“When we got here, we started to feel like we wanted to stay here,” she said. They hired a lawyer who “ended up being a crook,” and their visa expired, she said.

Now 23, Rebecca has spent roughly half her life in the United States.

“My heart is in two different places. It’s hard every day to make the choice to be here. And it’s still a choice, despite all the inconveniences of being undocumented,” she said.

When she gained DACA status in 2012, “everything really changed.” The California Dream Act enabled her to receive state financial aid at UCLA, where she graduated with a double major in anthropology and Arabic.

While at UCLA, she participated in UndocuBruins, a research grant program for undocumented students and received funding to work with a South L.A. nonprofit that trains previously incarcerated people to work on urban farms in “food deserts.”

After she “decided that urban farming is really cool,” Rebecca completed a three-month fellowship at a Jewish community farm in Berkeley called Urban Adamah. Much like a kibbutz, the fellows live and farm together. This summer she worked as a garden educator at a Jewish summer camp in northern California and is now working with other UCLA grads at a startup nonprofit called COMPASS for Youth, which provides counseling for at-risk and homeless youth in Los Angeles.

Her undocumented status has inspired her to help others.

“I feel really blessed for that, because it’s opened my eyes and made me empathetic toward the stories of so many people that I wouldn’t have been able to empathize with beforehand,” she said.

“A lot of doors have been closed on me, and I had to push through a lot of doors. I got a lot of help [and] a lot of community support. … I’m grateful.”— Rebecca

While at UCLA, she was active at Hillel and in the Jewish community, but she had to navigate her place among the mostly Latino undocumented students and the feeling of guilt that accompanies a recognition of privilege.

“Ironically, my dad is also a construction worker, just like the dads of many of the undocumented folks that I know … [but] my dad’s been able to be more successful because he has resources, and he’s not Mexican, so he’s not looked at in a particular way. I look like a white person, so I don’t experience the sort of racist reality that comes with being undocumented in America.”

Rebecca’s mother is a self-published writer of poetry in Hebrew and English.

“A lot of [the poems] are about being away from home and being separated from her family. Her dad passed away while we were here, a few years into being here. So she wasn’t able to see him for the few last years of his life, and then not at his death, not at his funeral, and not now, many years later,” she said.

Rebecca was afraid of deportation, but becoming a DACA recipient “has given me breathing room,” she said. She’d rather move to Israel on her own terms than be deported, but hopes to stay here. She’s trying to make the world a better place in her own way.

“If America doesn’t want that, too bad,” she said. “I’ll take my American education and I’ll go somewhere else.”

Despite the fear that comes with being undocumented, “the immigrant experience is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said.

“I was totally uprooted and I had to cope, and assimilated to something that was 100 percent foreign to me. And that was really hard,” she added. “A lot of doors have been closed on me, and I had to push through a lot of doors. I got a lot of help [and] a lot of community support. … I’m grateful.”

‘The dreams come true here’

In the heart of affluent Beverly Hills, 17-year-old Jason harbors a secret. His family came from Israel when he was 5, and someone posing as a lawyer botched their citizenship applications and disappeared. Their work permits expired, and now Jason, his parents, and his younger brother live in the shadows.

His friends don’t know. Neither did his girlfriend, whom he considered marrying in order to gain a path to legal status. His parents actually pressured him to propose even though he knew “she would freak out, like, big time” if she found out he was undocumented.

Jason became a DACA recipient in 2015.

“I had no idea what it was,” he said. In fact, until that point, his parents hadn’t told him or his younger brother about their immigration status.

“They didn’t know we were illegal because we didn’t want them to talk to their friends,” his father, Avi, said. “Only when the DACA program came out, after talking to Neil [Sheff, their immigration lawyer], only then we told the kids.”

Jason plays guitar and plans to enroll in a music program after graduating from Beverly Hills High School. But his immigration status has complicated his plans.

“I do want to travel at some point, and if I’m not documented I can’t do that,” he said.

Returning to Israel is not an option, his parents say.

“I have nothing to do in Israel,” his mother, Ravital, said. “It’s hard to live there. Here, it’s an easier life. The dreams come true here.”

Daniel, their 13-year-old son, wants to be an actor. Because he’s too young to gain DACA status, he can’t get a work permit and audition for roles.

“Now that [Trump] canceled it, it’s a lot harder. It’s impossible, unless I get married to an American girl,” Daniel said with a laugh.

Ravital owns a skin care company, and Avi works in software development. “We do everything by the book, and we find a way to pay taxes on time,” Ravital said.

“We probably pay more taxes than Trump,” Avi added.

Many of their Israeli and Orthodox Jewish friends are Trump supporters, and they fear social alienation if their immigration status is discovered. “Before you called, we closed all the windows around the house,” Avi admitted. “The stigma of people who are illegal here is very bad.”

‘Remember the stranger and the foreigner in your land’

There’s a disconnect between Jews and undocumented immigrants, says Beverly Hills immigration attorney Neil Sheff, who speaks Hebrew and Spanish fluently. About half of his clients are Israeli, and he hears a lot of rhetoric against immigration reform from his fellow Jews, even those born in other countries.

“Their responses are usually, ‘We came here the legal way.’ When many of the Jewish immigrants came here, the immigration laws were so relaxed and the process was so much easier, everyone could come here the legal way,” he said.

“Their plight isn’t really acknowledged by the greater Jewish community, especially the Orthodox Jewish community.” – Neil Sheff

Sheff believes there are many Israelis living in L.A. without documentation, as well as Jews from South Africa, Russia and an increasing number from France, looking to escape their country’s rising tide of anti-Semitism.

“Their plight isn’t really acknowledged by the greater Jewish community, especially the Orthodox Jewish community,” which supports Trump because they consider him to be pro-Israel, Sheff said.

The Torah extolls Jews 36 times to treat strangers well, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

“It’s part and parcel of who we are as Jews to remember the stranger and the foreigner in your land,” Sheff said. “That should translate immediately to empathy for the immigrants here, whether they are immigrants who have been here for generations or just arrived.”

Who are the Jewish ‘Dreamers’?

Immigrants and DACA supporters rallying across the street from the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas on Sept. 10. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Our email inboxes were stuffed last week with statements from Jewish organizations urging continued protection for “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

Last Monday, President Donald Trump said he was giving six months notice to end the DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, launched by his predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2011. Trump has signaled a willingness to sign congressional legislation that would codify its provisions.

One statement, though, from Agudath Israel of America, stood out in its concern not just about Dreamers, but Jewish Dreamers.

“It affects hundreds of thousands of young people, including many in the Jewish community, who have grown up and been educated in the United States, the only home they have known,” the haredi Orthodox organization said in its statement issued Thursday.

We covered one such Dreamer who has become an activist, Elias Rosenfeld of Boston, but I was curious about the “many in the Jewish community” in the release. Agudah put me in touch with David Grunblatt, the lay chairman of its immigration task force and the co-head of the immigration department at Proskauer, a major law firm.

Grunblatt told me that he started hearing from Jewish Dreamers almost as soon as Agudah put out a release offering to assist them, soon after DACA was launched in 2012.

He said the number of Jewish Dreamers among the 800,000 known to have applied for protections under DACA was “not huge but not negligible,” and there were a variety of reasons for their illegal status among the cases he has handled.

“They tried to apply for a green card or for employment sponsorship, and it went wrong and they’ve been here five or six or seven years and they’re not going anywhere,” Grunblatt said. “Or a family comes here because someone in the family needs medical treatment, they stay six months, another six months, another six months and the situation is resolved one way or the other — but the family is here.”

In some cases, he said, parents successfully obtain green cards but fail to obtain them for their children.

The case of Rosenfeld, a Venezuelan native, involved an illness: His mother, a media executive, traveled to the United States on an L1 visa, which allows specialized, managerial employees to work for the U.S. office of a parent company. When he was in the fifth grade, his mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She died two years later.

Grunblatt said that in one case, he was contacted by an all-girls school.

“They discovered one of the girls in the school was undocumented because they were going on a school trip to Canada and the kid didn’t even know [if] she was documented,” he said.

That’s fairly common, said Melanie Nezer, a vice president at HIAS, the lead Jewish organization handling immigration advocacy.

“If a child is brought over when they’re a baby or a very young child, they just grow up American,” she said. “They speak English — why would they think they’re different from anyone else?”

While support for the Dreamers has been fairly bipartisan, and Jewish organizational consensus is for a solution that lets them stay in the country, some Jews have major qualms about the program — especially with the way it was created by executive order under Obama.

“If the Obama administration wanted to implement the DACA program, it should have made the case to Congress and try to pass its proposal into law,” Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, said in a statement. “The administration absolutely did not have the authority to write its own ‘laws.’

“If the proposal did not have the support to pass, then it should not go into effect. That is how our process is designed and must be respected.”

Zeldin said he is “open” to debating the issue with his colleagues, but “[m]y priority will always unapologetically remain with fighting for the people following the laws rather than the ones breaking them.”

Nezer said her impression was that the majority of Dreamers fit the profile that gets the most prominent play in the media: those who arrive here as babies or toddlers with their parents from Mexico or Central America.

But, she said, that the population is more diverse than that template — and includes Jews — should not surprise members of the Jewish community.

“Our parents and grandparents took these risks not for themselves but for us,” Nezer said. “And that’s exactly what the Dreamers’ parents did.”

Few lives track an easy trajectory, Grunblatt said, and Dreamers are no different.

“It’s life,” he said. “Things happen in life, plans go awry, ambitions fail and people end up here.”

A Jewish ‘Dreamer’ is scared, but refuses to despair

Elias Rosenfeld, a sophomore at Brandeis University, speaking at a rally at Boston’s Faneuil Hall hours after President Trump announced he was rescinding DACA protections for some 800,000 young people on Sept. 5. Photo by Jeremy Burton/JCRC of Greater Boston

At 15, Elias Rosenfeld became a “Dreamer.”

At the time, the Venezuela native was attending Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami, where he had lived since he was 6 years old, when his Jewish family moved to South Florida from Caracas. His mother was a media executive and they traveled to the United States on an L1 visa, which allows specialized, managerial employees to work for the U.S. office of a parent company.

But tragedy struck the family: When Rosenfeld was in the fifth grade, his mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She died two years later.

In high school, Rosenfeld applied for a driver’s permit, only to find out that he lacked the required legal papers. He discovered that his mother’s death  voided her visa. He and his older sister were undocumented.

“It was an embarrassing moment for me,” Rosenfeld recalled more than five years later.

Within five months, in June 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, granting temporary, renewable legal status to young unauthorized immigrants who had been brought to America by their parents as children.

Known as DACA, the order opened up a world of opportunities for some 800,000 young people who were now able to apply for driver’s licenses, temporary work permits and college. “Dreamers” refers to a bipartisan bill, known as the Dream Act, that would have offered them a path to legal residency.

“It was the power of one order that can so directly change one’s life,” Rosenfeld said. “That launched me. I became an advocate.”

He launched United Student Immigrants, a nonprofit to assist undocumented students that has been credited with raising tens of thousands of dollars for help with scholarships and applications.

Rosenfeld, now a 20-year-old sophomore at Brandeis University on a full scholarship, spoke with JTA at a rally Tuesday outside of this city’s Faneuil Hall, just hours after President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced they would rescind DACA. The president gave Congress a six-month window to preserve the program through legislation. Or not.

The Boston protest was organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, where Rosenfeld is an intern. He shared his story with several hundred people at the quickly organized rally.

He explained that DACA enabled him to drive, buy his first car, and apply for internships, jobs and scholarships.

“Today’s news was cruel and devastating. Now is not the time of despair, however, but to put our energy towards effective action,” he said, urging the crowd to work for protective legislation at the federal and state levels. There are some 8,000 DACA residents in Massachusetts.

Several Jewish communal leaders attended the rally, including Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, and Jerry Rubin, president of Jewish Vocational Services. Representatives from the New England Jewish Labor Committee, which helped spread the word of the rally, held signs in the crowd.

Another Dreamer, Filipe Zamborlini, who came to the U.S. from Brazil when he was 12 and now works as a career coach at Jewish Vocational Services, also spoke.

“We’re going to mourn today,” Zamborlini, 28, told the assembly.

The New England Jewish Labor Committee helped spread the word about a rally in Boston in support of DACA, Sept. 5, 2017. (Marion Davis/Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition)

Rosenfeld said the Trump administration’s decision was disturbing and unsettling.

“There’s a high level of fear and anxiety in DACA communities,” he told JTA.

Rosenfeld recalls too well the sting and uncertainty of being undocumented.

“It means you can’t do everything your peers and your friends are doing. You feel American, but you are suffering these consequences from choices you didn’t make,” he said.

But he also sounded a note of optimism, pointing out that Trump called on Congress to act.

“We hope Congress follows their president’s word now and does the job of passing one of the many pieces of legislation” before them, Rosenfeld said.

He readily admits to feeling scared and anxious.

“But I’m also feeling empowered and motivated from seeing the outpouring of support,” locally and across the country, he said.

To DACA opponents, including Jewish supporters of Trump, Rosenfeld asks them to look at the facts and the stories of people like himself.

“I don’t think it aligns with our values, with Jewish values and the Jewish community,” he said of a policy that would essentially strip a generation of people raised here of official recognition.

Rosenfeld cited the activism of a group called Torah Trumps Hate, which opposes policies that it considers anathema to values contained in Jewish teachings.

Growing up, his family attended synagogue often and celebrated Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Despite the hardships he faced following his mother’s death, Rosenfeld excelled in high school. He completed 13 Advanced Placement courses and ranked among the top 10 percent of his graduating class, according to a Miami-Dade County school bulletin. Rosenfeld was widely recognized as a student leader, receiving several awards and honors. During the presidential campaign, he volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Many students who were undocumented live in constant fear, even after receiving temporary legal status under DACA, Rosenfeld said.

“There is fear behind the shadows,” he said. “We are always behind the shadows.”

Earlier in the day, before the president’s announcement, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz sent a letter to Trump urging him not to undo DACA.

“Here at Brandeis University, we value our DACA students, who enrich our campus in many ways and are integral to our community,” the letter said. “Reversing DACA inflicts harsh punishment on the innocent. As a nation founded by immigrants, we can, should, and must do better.”

Rosenfeld was attracted to Brandeis both for its academics and its commitment to social justice. He is studying political science, sociology and law, with plans to continue his advocacy work on behalf of immigrants. He hopes one day to attend law school and work in politics or practice law.

With a full schedule of courses and volunteer work, Rosenfeld gets by without much sleep, he acknowledged with an easy laugh.

The Brandeis administration has been supportive, he said, and there is a meeting later this week on campus to discuss school policy on the issue.

Asked what America means to him, Rosenfeld does not hesitate.

“It means my country. It’s my home. There’s a connection. I want to contribute,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s valuable to want to kick out people that want to contribute to this country.”

The lie at the heart of the DACA repeal

Protesters gather to show support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in Los Angeles on Sept. 1. Photo by Kyle Grillot/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind DACA only makes sense if you remember Charlottesville.

You have to recall what the white supremacists who marched in that Virginia town chanted: “You will not replace us! You will not replace us!”

Sure, they lapsed into, “Jews will not replace us,” but DACA isn’t about being anti-Semitic, it’s about being anti-Them.

Trump’s order to phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in six months would affect some 800,000 young people who were brought to this country as children when their parents crossed the border illegally. They had no more complicity in that action than a toddler strapped inside a getaway car is guilty of bank robbery. They’ve known no other country but the United States, where they went to school, found jobs (some 91 percent are employed) and made lives.

By canceling DACA, Trump would be uprooting these people and sending them back to countries they do not know, whose languages some of them do not even speak. And for what?

Despite what Trump’s ever-dwindling number of defenders claim, repealing DACA has nothing to do with whether President Barack Obama’s executive order was constitutional.

As others have pointed out, a guy concerned with our nation’s highest laws doesn’t pardon a guy like Joe Arpaio, indicted for subverting it. And if he really wanted Congress to exercise its rightful power in passing a law for the Dreamers, why give them a six-month deadline before phasing out DACA? Why not a year? Kicking it to Congress demonstrates Trump’s essential cowardice.

No, what Trump wants to do is make good on an applause line from his campaign rallies, promising his die-hard supporters that he would put an end to DACA. They’re not interested in a go-slow approach that would put the measure on more solid constitutional footing. They’re not interested in a compromise that would maximize the potential good these hundreds of thousands of Dreamers can bestow on America. They’re not interested in fairness, because how is it fair to punish someone for something they didn’t do?

So, what are they interested in? One clue can be found in the Breitbart story announcing Trump’s decision. Its headline is, “Open Borders, Corporate Interests Brace for End of DACA.” In other words, the only people who these Trump supporters think care about making sure these Americans stay in America are the “globalists.”

The story’s writer, John Binder, claims that with the Dreamers out, some 30,000 jobs will open up each month.

“Ending DACA could be a major stimulus for the 4.4 percent of unemployed Americans who will see more than 700,000 new job openings across the United States,” Binder writes.

That’s ludicrous, of course. It assumes none of the Dreamers are self-employed, that their roles can easily be filled by the ranks of the remaining unemployed — many of whom are far less well-educated, less well-trained, less motivated, far older or not even living in areas where the Dreamers work. Some 250 work for Apple — in what fantasy world are those jobs just ripe for the picking? But Breitbart knows that.

Shafting the Dreamers is not about the promise that an eager army of neglected (white) Americans will magically slip into the work shoes of the 700,000 gainfully employed Dreamers. It’s about the fear that these Americans are no longer needed at all. “You will not replace us!” The Charlottesville chant echoes in Trump’s shortsighted and cruel new action. See, he is saying, I won’t let them — these brown, line-hopping hordes — replace you.

It doesn’t matter that setting these Dreamers loose on America boosts the economy and will improve the future for us all, as every highly motivated group of immigrants, from Irish to Italians to Jews to Latinos, has done throughout American history. It’s not about reality, it’s about revenge. If you think you’re going to replace us, take this.

There’s a tragic coda to Breitbart’s gloating story. On the very same website is a story about Alonso Guillen, 31, a disc jockey in Lufkin, Texas. Four days after Hurricane Harvey submerged Houston, Guillen volunteered to pilot a rescue boat. He and two friends were en route to the boat when their truck struck a bridge and overturned, throwing the men into the raging current of Cypress Creek. Guillen drowned. According to his family, Guillen was a recipient of the DACA program — his parents brought him from Piedras Negras, Mexico, when he was a child. His father became a legal permanent resident. His mother, Rita Ruiz de Guillen, was in Mexico awaiting approval of her immigration application when she heard of her son’s death. When she tried to enter the United States to attend the funeral, immigration officials turned her back.

“I’ve lost a great son, you have no idea,” his mother told reporters. “I’m asking God to give me strength.”

There’s a word for Americans like Alonso Guillen.

Irreplaceable.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Jewish groups attack Trump’s DACA decision as immoral

Demonstrators protest in front of the White House after the Trump administration scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Sept. 5. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

An array of Jewish groups and lawmakers attacked as immoral President Donald Trump’s move to end an Obama-era program granting protections to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

The Trump administration said Sept. 5 that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months. President Barack Obama had launched DACA in 2011 after multiple attempts failed in Congress to pass an immigration bill that would settle the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants. The program protected those who arrived as children from deportation and granted them limited legal status.

In statements, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the principal objection to Obama’s so-called Dreamers program was that it was unconstitutional because it was established by an executive order, and indicated that Trump was ready to sign any congressional legislation that would accommodate the “Dreamers.” It was unclear what would happen in the meantime or, should Congress not pass legislation, what would happen to the 800,000 people who have sought and received DACA’s protections.

Trump, in a statement, said his hand was forced by attorneys general from conservative states who plan to sue to kill DACA.

“The attorney general of the United States, the attorneys general of many states and virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court,” he said.

Republican leaders in Congress have expressed a willingness to pass the legislation necessary to protect the affected immigrants, but Jewish groups and lawmakers said ending the program presented immoral perils, given the failures of Congress in the past to agree on comprehensive immigration reform.

“DACA recognized these individuals for who they are: Americans in everything but paperwork,” Melanie Nezer, the vice president for public affairs of HIAS, a major Jewish immigrant advocacy group. “Their hopes and dreams are no different from kids who are born here, and there is no legitimate reason for inflicting this needless suffering on them and their families.”

The Reform movement called the action “morally misguided” and demanded that Congress act to redress the rescission.

“It is imperative that Congress step up in support of these young people who grew up in the United States and who want to give back to the only country they know as home,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “We call on Congress to protect DACA recipients from deportation by immediately passing a clean bipartisan Dream Act of 2017 — and on the president to support it.”

Richard Foltin, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government affairs, called the decision “devastating,” and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it was one of “a long list of actions and policies by this administration that have deeply hurt immigrants and their families.” The ADL noted the pardoning last month of Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who had been convicted of discriminatory practices against Latinos, and the threat to withdraw funding from cities offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Other Jewish organizations condemning the decision included Bend the Arc, J Street, the National Council of Jewish Women, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Shalom Center and the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Bend the Arc listed rallies across the country it would join to oppose the decision.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for public policy, said it “strongly opposed” the decision and called on Congress to act to protect the “Dreamers.”

“The Jewish community has a long history of active engagement in the struggles of new immigrants and in development of our nation’s immigration policy,” it said. “We believe that Congress must enact a permanent solution and we call on lawmakers to act immediately to protect immigrant youth by passing the ‘Dream Act of 2017,’ bipartisan legislation that would replace fear and uncertainty with permanent protection.”

Jewish Democrats also slammed the decision.

“Terminating #DACA now puts 800,000 talented young #DREAMers who love, contribute to, and live in America officially at risk of deportation,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Twitter.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Engel’s counterpart on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the decision was “clearly written with little thought of the human consequences.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called the decision “cruel and arbitrary.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, in a long and anguished statement, said he supported Trump’s decision but added that he would work to pass legislation to protect the undocumented immigrants.

“I am very much willing to work with any of my colleagues on either side of the aisle on this issue and others to find common ground however possible,” he said. “Working together productively and substantively, I am hugely confident that long overdue progress can absolutely be achieved at least in part to move the needle more in the right direction.”

Dreamers and their supporters on the night of Sept. 4 held a candlelight vigil outside the home of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the daughter and son-in-law of the president. The couple, who both serve as advisers to the president, reportedly advocated for continuing DACA.