May 24, 2019

Voice of a Dreamer

As we sit down to our Passover seders this weekend and retell the story of how we wandered in the desert to achieve our freedom, we are once again reminded that despite the passage of 3,000 years, people are still struggling to be free.

Soraya Alvarez (not her real name) is one of those people. In 1990, when she was just 2 years old, Soraya and her parents left their home in Durango, Mexico, and crossed the Sonoran Desert on their way to the promised land: America.

Alvarez was too young to recall the journey, but she related the following story that her father told her: During the family’s trek through the desert, their “coyote” — a man hired to help them cross — warned Alvarez’s father that United States Border Patrol agents were approaching.

“My father was carrying me and we were trying to hide behind these bushes, so he put me down behind the bush. But I started to cry and wouldn’t stop. When he looked down, he realized I was crying because there was a big cactus and I was being punctured by it.”

That incident could serve as a metaphor for Alvarez’s personal and professional life in America. Today, as an undocumented immigrant, she works for a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of immigrant youths — those punctured by U.S. immigration enforcement policies.

“We are fighting the good fight, pushing against the narrative that scapegoats immigrants,” she said. “We feel all immigrants should live with dignity and respect, regardless of where they come from.”

Alvarez shared her story as she sat in the boardroom of the downtown law offices of Stone, Grzegorek & Gonzalez, which specializes in immigration law and facilitated this interview. She chose to use a pseudonym and not state where she works for this interview, she said, because she fears for her parents.

Alvarez said her father came to the United States on a visa in the 1980s before she was born. He earned money by working in construction. Following her birth, he needed to make more money to support his family and came back to the U.S. to work again. “I didn’t meet my father until I was 2,” Alvarez said.

Her father loved America. He saw the opportunities available and wanted his daughter to take advantage of them. And so, he convinced Alvarez’s mother that their family should go there to make a new life.

Alvarez said she always knew growing up that she was undocumented. “My father always told me, ‘You’re in this situation because of us, and now you have to work twice as hard as anyone else.’ ”

Work hard she did. Alvarez was valedictorian of her 2006 high school graduating class at the Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy.

However, she was taken aback when she applied to colleges.

“I guess I was naïve,” she said. “I thought because I had good grades and was involved in all these organizations and clubs and I was volunteering, that somehow I would be able to get financial aid. But I realized that the situation was more difficult.”

Soraya Alvarez (back to camera) speaks at a rally for immigrants. Photo courtesy of Soraya Alvarez

“When I say it’s not my fault, my parents brought me here, I’m criminalizing my parents.” — Soraya Alvarez

Still, she persisted and earned a bachelor’s degree at Cal State Los Angeles. She then received a master’s degree in international relations at Chapman University.

Even after she qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2015, following President Barack Obama’s executive order, she lost her job at a nonprofit organization in May 2017, when her DACA status expired as she was in the midst of the renewal process.

“This was happening around the time the Trump administration came into power,” she said. “All the government offices were understaffed. And I guess a lot of lawyers feel threatened by the possibility of being audited, so they didn’t want to take the risk” of keeping her on.

Two weeks after she lost her job, Alvarez received her DACA renewal, which is now in effect through May 2019. It took her three months to find her current job.

“I was very concerned because I have student loans from my graduate studies, so I was really stressed out. I think my mental health really took a dive,” she said.

As it turns out, Alvarez is now the only undocumented immigrant in her family. Her 25-year-old brother was born in the United States, and when he turned 21 he was able to have their parents become permanent residents.

Alvarez said she’s not comfortable being labeled a “Dreamer” — the term often used to refer to DACA recipients. “Looking back, we were able to achieve so much as Dreamers, but I felt like we placed our experiences on a pedestal because we appear to the American public as educated.”

Growing up in America and assimilating into American culture have been positive experiences for her, she added, but at the same time she is concerned about many others who she sees as being left behind.

“When I say I’m not a criminal, I consider that to be very anti-Black, because so many Black people and other people of color have been incarcerated as a result of criminalization,” she explained. “When I say I’m not a terrorist, I feel like I’m also criminalizing the Muslim community. When I say it’s not my fault, my parents brought me here, I’m criminalizing my parents.”

Her parents are concerned about the potential legal ramifications of her activism.

“I’m not breaking any laws,” she said, “but I am going to rallies and speaking out and putting my name out there. It’s taking a risk. My parents caution me. They say, ‘We see on TV that activists are being rounded up.’ But I feel like our times require people to stand up and speak truth to power. And if I were to just give up and let things happen, I wouldn’t have a clear conscience.

“Because, U.S. residents are also being targeted and can be criminalized,” she said. “If ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] were to come and target me, they might try to target my parents as well. I’ve seen that happen with other people.”

She tries not to get caught up in what might happen to her in the future, even though she fears the Trump administration may abolish DACA. Instead, she focuses on her work and living in the present.

Her goal, she said, is “to change the hearts and minds of people who are on the other side, who continue to dehumanize us, criminalize us and scapegoat us for all the societal problems that exist.”

If there’s one thing she wishes she could do, it’s travel the world.

“I can only imagine what life would be like outside of these walls,” she said. “As someone who is really passionate about human rights issues around the world, it’s definitely something that I always think about.”
Alvarez said she might consider returning to Mexico one day “if we are not able to fix our situation here and find relief.

“I don’t feel like a prisoner per se,” she said, “but I would love to be able to go and explore one day without having to feel like I can’t.”

Moving & Shaking: Defending Israel, Standing Up for DACA

From left: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra; Jessie Kornberg, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek; Ora T. Fisher, vice chair at Latham & Watkins; and Latham & Watkins partners David Schindler and Peter Rosen attend the annual Bet Tzedek gala dinner. Photo by Kim Silverstein, Silver Lining Photography

More than 1,000 people attended the Bet Tzedek annual gala on Feb. 1 at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, which raised more than $2.2 million for the pro bono legal aid agency.

Bet Tzedek provides free, comprehensive legal services for low-income individuals and families in Los Angeles.

Honorees included Kim Selfon, who received the Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award; the law firm of Latham & Watkins, which received the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award, presented by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to the firm’s vice chair, Ora Fisher; John Ly, who received the Rebecca Nichols Emerging Leader Award, presented by Brian Sun, partner-in-charge at the Los Angeles office of the Jones Day law firm; and E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney and former president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, who received the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award, presented by David Lash, managing counsel for pro bono work at the O’Melveny & Myers law firm.

“The Bet Tzedek annual gala dinner is a powerful statement that ensuring equal justice for all is not just a tagline, it’s an ongoing commitment of our community to provide free legal services to those that need them most,” said Bet Tzedek President and CEO Jessie Kornberg.

After the gala, more than 100 young professionals gathered at The Mixing Room at the JW Marriott for the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council After Party, which raises funds for, and awareness of, the work of Bet Tzedek.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra addressed approximately 60 people at Young Israel of Century City (YICC) last week. YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin (right) introduced Becerra. Photo by Ryan Torok

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appeared at Young Israel of Century City (YICC) on the evening of Feb. 6 for a wide-ranging discussion on immigration, homelessness, mental illness and Israel.

Addressing about 60 people in the YICC social hall, Becerra called himself a “strong ally and supporter of Israel.”

“We endanger the fight for Israel if we make it a partisan issue in the U.S.,” he said to applause.

Asked about Democrats’ sometimes critical views of Israel, Becerra, a Democrat said Republicans were to blame for turning Israel into a partisan issue.

“Most of the Democrats I know have been strongly supportive of Israel,” he said.

Becerra began the evening with a discussion of immigration, saying the term “sanctuary cities” is a term of art. With no official legal definition, “sanctuary cities” generally describes cities whose law enforcement agencies do not cooperate with, but do not interfere with, federal law enforcement in identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants, he said.

An American of Mexican descent, Becerra became California’s chief law officer in 2017, after his predecessor Kamala Harris’ election to the U.S. Senate.

During a Q-and-A after the presentation, an audience member, who said his brother had a mental illness, asked Becerra what elected officials were doing to help people like his brother.

Becerra acknowledged the dearth of services for the mentally ill but did not have an answer. Instead, he drew a connection between untreated mental illness and the rise in homelessness.

Notable attendees at the event included YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin, YICC Past President Mark Goldenberg and Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

From left: Marcia Brous, Steven Wynbrandt, Ariel Wolpe and Stacie Chaiken sing at a Jews for Dreamers rally at the West L.A. office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Photo by Ryan Torok

More than 100 Jews gathered Feb. 6 for a rally in support of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, outside the West Los Angeles office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein at Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards.

“Let my people stay,” the protestors chanted.

The lively rally, organized by Leo Baeck Temple, the secular Sholem Community and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, drew Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, part-time rabbi-in-residence at Bend the Arc; Cohen’s wife, Andrea Hodos, program co-director at NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change; Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Rachel Sumekh, founder of Swipe Out Hunger; Hillel at UCLA Director Emeritus Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller; and Marcia and Rick Brous, the parents of IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous.

While Marcia Brous banged a bongo drum, Rick Brous held a sign that read, “Republican for Dreamers.”

“I’m an American before I’m a Republican, and I can’t stand our current president,” Rick Brous said. “I think it is important for everybody to support Dreamers, not just Jews. It is the right thing to do.”

Sumekh, for her part, said she felt good being around likeminded people.

“Normally, I feel this when I’m listening to my podcasts, and now I get to feel this rage with hundreds of people,” she said.

Sumekh said she empathizes with young, undocumented immigrants because her mother fled Iran at the age of 21 “with a dream.”

LA Kids Challah Bake participants complete the first stage of making
their challah dough: adding yeast to warm water. Photo by Ricardo Cornejo

On the morning of Feb. 4, Super Bowl Sunday, about 200 people turned out for a different kind of food-centered tradition: the second annual LA Kids Challah Bake at The Majestic Downtown in Los Angeles.

Event organizer Brocha Yemini said “people who affiliate with the Jewish religion” were invited to participate. She added that she was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the attendees and heartened by the number who had never before attempted to make challah.

“That was one of our goals,” said Yemini, director of Camp Gan Israel, one of the event’s sponsors.

She said she hoped that many of the newbies would now feel confident enough to attempt making challah at home.

“Challah is delicious,” she said. “It’s something that is loved by all. We want to have unity through challah.”

She and her sister, Rochie Yemini, were inspired to start the event in December 2016 by a similar, albeit larger program in New York. They held the inaugural bake event at the Chabad Israel Center on South Robertson Boulevard in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. While they considered that event a success, they wanted to make sure everyone — affiliated Jews, unaffiliated Jews and interfaith families — felt welcome. So, they sought out a nonreligious venue for this year’s festivities.

Sarah Klegman, a writer and co-founder of Challah Hub, a local artisan challah delivery company, and Whitney Fisch, director of counseling at Milken Community School’s upper-school campus and creator of the Jewhungry blog, served as hosts and kept the proceedings lively with a competitive challah trivia game. But when they asked about the mitzvah of separating the challah, the hafrashat challah, the otherwise rambunctious crowd that included many school-age children grew quiet. The practice involves separating a small piece of dough after the flour, yeast and wet ingredients have been combined but before the dough is braided. Historically, these olive-size pieces of dough were offerings to temple priests, but these days the practice is to burn them.

Brocha Yemini said that when everyone joined together in blessing the challah, with their eyes closed, it was “a special moment.”

Then it was on to the braiding. Every child made a challah to take home and a second one to be delivered the following day to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, whose representative, Kitty Glass, spoke to the crowd about the organization’s work.

Not surprisingly, given the age of the young bakers, chocolate chips and sprinkles proved to be the challah toppings of choice. Raisins, not so much.

Leslee Komaiko, Contributing Writer

From left: Jewish Family Service Los Angeles (JFSLA) Vice President Susie Forer-Dehry, “Laughing Matters” co-chairs Linda Levine and Wendy Silver; JFSLA board member Tami Stapf; JFSLA board chair Shana Passman; and JFSLA President and CEO Eli Veitzer attend “Laughing Matters,” a benefit for JFSLA, at the Laugh Factory. Photo by Michael Sidman

More than 200 Angelenos filled the Laugh Factory in Hollywood on Feb. 6 for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ (JFSLA) sixth annual “Laughing Matters” fundraiser, which features well-known stand-up comedians and benefits the organization’s domestic violence services.

“We are so grateful for the support of our community who came together to make this ‘Laughing Matters’ a night to remember,” JFSLA President and CEO Eli Veitzer told the Journal.

Originally founded in 1854 as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, JFSLA offers a broad range of services, including financial assistance and emotional support services for Holocaust survivors, mental health and addiction counseling, and citywide food drives.

This year’s lineup of comedians included Orny Adams, Preacher Lawson and John Mendoza, who performed their sets but also took time to stress the importance of assisting survivors of domestic violence.

The headliner was actor, comedian and talk show host Arsenio Hall, best known for hosting “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

Over the previous five annual events, proceeds from tickets, donations and auctions have raised more than $300,000.

This year, Veitzer said, “Thanks to our co-chairs, Linda Levine and Wendy Silver, we raised over $75,000 to support domestic violence services provided by JFS Hope, formerly known as the Family Violence Project.”

Tickets were $200 per person.

With counseling centers in North Hollywood and Pico-Robertson, two crisis hotlines and three residential shelters, JFSLA offers a continuum of care, from counseling and case management to housing assistance and job-readiness skills for survivors of domestic violence.

The evening also included a light dinner buffet and a live auction.

Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Going Where Justice Calls

Photo courtesy of Mustafa Zeno/Bend the Arc

Every day since Donald Trump rescinded the Dream Act, one hundred twenty dreamers have lost their DACA protections. This means that they can be deported at any time from the only country they know (and love) to a country that they were born in, but do not recognize in any meaningful way.

Last week, a group of justice seekers decided to speak up.

I was part of a multi-generational gathering of Jews and their allies, of all affiliations and no affiliations. More than one hundred folks milled about at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sepulveda, listening to Hebrew songs and protest songs, listening to speeches, chanting, clapping, and shmoozing. This was a gathering that would have pleased any program director of any Federation. These hundred plus folks were not, however, at a Federation fundraiser, or a hip synagogue social held outside on the street. This was a political demonstration outside the offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The point of the gathering was clear: No vote for a Continuing Resolution (CR) without the passage of the Dream Act. Feinstein voted against the last CR, and we were there to thank her and to strengthen her resolve, the resolve of the Democratic caucus in general to once again demand a clean Dream Act. A Dream Act that does not hold the fates of 800,000 young people hostage to a wall, or an extreme right wing immigration agenda.

One of the most profound questions that is facing our country today is this: What does it mean to be a citizen? Is citizenship merely the result of the accident of birth? The granting of a certificate? The culmination of a bureaucratic odyssey? Or is citizenship a commitment to certain bonds of mutual responsibility and care? Is citizenship perhaps the promise and practice of upholding the ideals of creating a more perfect union? Are the commitments of citizenship actually those commitments to supporting family and community? To working hard and creating human happiness for self and others?

The point of the gathering was clear: No vote for a Continuing Resolution (CR) without the passage of the Dream Act.

The Jewish tradition teaches us that it is, rather, the commitment to mutual care and supporting the weakest among us; to creating a more just and prosperous community and society which defines what a citizen is. And so it is time that we changed the conversation. It is beyond time that we recognize that the dreamers, and their families and all immigrants—documented and undocumented, who are in this city and this country to create a life, to find security or refuge, to enjoy and proliferate the benefits of justice and democracy—are already citizens. We just have to work out how to get them their papers.

The Jewish people is an immigrant people, a refugee people, and a diasporic people. We know in our bodies the precariousness of knocking at the door of countries who did not want us to enter, and the promise of those who opened their doors. The Jewish community in the United States, after a pretty rocky start, has enjoyed the benefits of security and stability that are the result of being welcomed to this country.

We also know what happens when citizenship is narrowly defined based solely on the accident of birthplace or skin color. We remember that when Jews were deported from Paris during World War II, the buses wound their ways through the streets filled with Parisians who knew who the passengers were, knew what was happening to them, and where they would end up, and did not protest—because they didn’t consider the Jews citizens. So-called upstanding citizens with the right papers and the right blood and the right race, let this happen.

We will not let this happen again.

The sting of disappointment in the evening was that though the Jews were there, (gathered by Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, together with IKAR and Reform CA) the Federations were not. The “leadership” of the Jewish community need not consult the latest Pew research poll to find out where the Jews, young and old, are. They are on the corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda, and similar street corners in dozens of other cities and in our nation’s capital. They are where justice calls.

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen is the Rabbi-in-Residence for Bend the Arc: Jewish Action in Southern California.

I’m a Dreamer Afraid of a Nightmare

Depression, anxiety, frustration: This was my reality as an undocumented young woman living in the United States. For many years, the love and support of my family was the only thing that sustained me.

In 2012, my life changed with the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals federal program, known as DACA. A weight was lifted off my shoulders when I learned I would be able to live a normal life. I immediately began to daydream as I had when I was a little girl, optimistic about my new life in the U.S. My new DACA status would enable me to finally be able to come out of the shadows — not only to survive, but to thrive.

My newfound joy and excitement and that of many others like me sparked attacks from local politicians. In Arizona, the state I call home, officials maneuvered to bar residents in the program from obtaining driver’s licenses, and a lawsuit against education access for DACA program recipients immediately followed. These efforts compelled me to join a local organization and become a community organizer.

As I integrated myself into the immigrant youth movement, I continued to live my life. The fight for justice brought me many things: confidence, knowledge and a new perspective on life. But most important, it brought me love.

In 2015, my son was born, instantly bringing light into my world. I had carried him for nine months with mixed emotions of hope and fear. I shared the same fears of most expectant mothers, but I also bore worries in my heart they did not. I thought about how the world would welcome the child of a “Dreamer.” I cried when I played out the scenarios in my head. What if the government ended DACA and tried to deport me?

What happens to our son if ICE comes to tear our family apart in the middle of the night?

The stress was relentless, but I made it through and found ease at the first sight of my baby’s smile.

The past two years have been like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There have been many ups and downs in motherhood. I remember my heart filling with joy when my boy said, “Mamma” for the first time, and I also remember the worry and frustration I felt as he started to fall behind and was diagnosed with delayed speech development. But my son and I have an indescribable bond. He refuses to fall asleep at night unless I am by his side and his little hands can touch my face. Our family is bound by unbreakable love.

Still, in the back of my mind, the uncertainty about what could happen to our family has never left me. Recently, that anxiety has accelerated. DACA recipients have again become the subjects of a political struggle after President Donald Trump halted the program in September. Our lives are now in the hands of politicians whose extreme partisanship could threaten our livelihood if a permanent solution is not reached.

I find myself thinking about what my family and I will do. If we can’t work, how will we put food on our table? What happens to our son if ICE comes to tear apart our family in the middle of the night? These are painful questions I now have to plan for. There are more than 800,000 DACA youth across the country who face the same questions, many of them also parents. Ending the DACA program is more than just about dollars lost to the economy. It is more than just companies losing employees and it’s more than certain elected officials getting their way. Ending DACA means ending the livelihood of real people. It means homes lost, families living in fear and hunger. It means children like mine crying as they are torn from the arms of their mothers.

Congress has the opportunity to pass a permanent legislative solution to protect Dreamers. Negotiations have been held and shared with the public. I just hope that when they finalize their decisions, they will remember that there are real human lives hanging in the balance.

Korina Iribe Romo is an Arizona State University graduate student, DACA recipient and community organizer. She is advocacy director at the student organization Undocumented Students for Education Equity.

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.

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.”

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.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at 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.

Give ‘dreamers’ the protection they were promised

A demonstrator holds a sign to protest against the refugee ban on Feb. 4. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has adopted an increasingly sympathetic tone toward the young undocumented immigrants — known as Dreamers — who have been granted renewable two-year protection from deportation under former President Barack Obama’s administration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Trump has promised to “show great heart” in dealing with these “incredible kids” and has encouraged them to “rest easy.” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has likewise characterized DACA as “a commitment” by the government that must be honored.

While such statements are encouraging, recent incidents have called into question whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are hearing the same message. In February, our client — a young father and two-time DACA recipient named Daniel Ramirez Medina — was swept up during a raid targeting another individual and detained without justification for more than six weeks. Federal agents also recently detained a 22-year-old Dreamer in Mississippi after she publicly criticized the government, and summarily deported a 23-year-old California man with a cognitive disability despite the fact that twice he had been granted protection under DACA.

The government established DACA in 2012 in recognition of the special circumstances surrounding “young people who were brought to this country as children and know only this country as home.” To qualify for DACA, eligible individuals are required to pay a substantial fee, provide the government with highly sensitive personal information and pass a rigorous background check. Understanding that many Dreamers might be reluctant to voluntarily come forward, the government coaxed these young people out of the shadows by promising that they would be free from arrest, detention and deportation as long as they played by the rules, and by assuring them that any information they disclosed would not be used for immigration enforcement purposes.

The government’s arrest and detention of Ramirez represents a clear breach of these promises. Although federal agents initially suggested that Ramirez was a gang member, the government quickly abandoned that allegation, and now asserts only that he supposedly “hangs out” with gang members — a charge he vigorously denies, and which is not grounds for revoking DACA. And rather than acknowledge that it made a mistake in arresting him, the government summarily stripped Ramirez of his DACA status, locked him up, and is seeking to have him deported, despite the fact that he has passed multiple DHS background checks and is not accused of any crime.

Given these extraordinary circumstances, our legal team filed a habeas corpus petition and several emergency motions seeking to have Ramirez released from custody. Rather than defend its conduct, the government sought to evade judicial review by arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the matter, adopting a position at odds with the Constitution and hundreds of years of well-settled law. Thankfully, our team was able to secure Ramirez’s release on bond after the government was forced to admit that there is no evidence he poses any risk to public safety.

Last month, our team filed a new complaint against the government. In addition to reinstatement of Ramirez’s DACA status and work authorization, we are seeking a judicial declaration that DACA cannot be revoked — and Dreamers cannot be arrested, detained or deported — without basic procedural safeguards such as notice and an opportunity to be heard. Fundamental fairness and the due process rights enshrined in the Constitution require no less.

Treating Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants with fairness and compassion also is consistent with Jewish values. More than any other commandment, and no fewer than 36 times, the Torah teaches us that we must act compassionately toward the “strangers” who live among us because we “were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” Citing this commandment and the great rabbis of the Talmud, the Jewish Theological Seminary explained earlier this year that “there is no religious obligation more central to Judaism than the protection of refugees and immigrants.”

Beyond its moral dimensions and constitutional significance, honoring the DACA promise has important implications for our society. In addition to its essential humanitarian benefits, DACA has helped unleash the potential of nearly 800,000 young people who have long called our country home. It has enabled them to attend universities, open bank accounts, start businesses, buy homes and cars, and — for Luis Cortes Romero, one of my co-counsels in the Ramirez case — graduate from law school and pass the bar exam. The right-leaning Cato Institute has estimated that DACA will add $280 billion to the U.S. economy over the next decade.

As the Obama administration acknowledged in establishing DACA, the program does not create any substantive rights or entitle Dreamers to permanent lawful status, as only Congress can grant those privileges. But the government did promise these young people that they would be entitled to basic protections if they came out of the shadows and played by the rules. As Americans and as Jews, we should do everything in our power to ensure that our government continues to honor that promise.

JESSE GABRIEL is a senior associate at the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and serves on the board of directors of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.