We are instructed in the Holiness Code to treat the strangers in our midst with justice and compassion: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33). This teaching permeates Jewish tradition and is echoed 35 times in the Torah – the most repeated of any commandment. The history of the Jewish people from Egypt through the Holocaust until today reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants throughout the world. As a community of immigrants, we are charged to pursue justice, seek peace and build a society that is welcoming to all of God's creatures, regardless of their immigration status. In Genesis, three strangers visit Abraham, and he welcomes them into his home and into his heart without question (Genesis 18:1-22). This virtue of hachnasat orchim, welcoming the stranger, drives both our commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation and our dedication to the hospitality and inclusion of all people.
Throughout the Reform Movement's history, we have worked to protect the rights and lives of those who are undocumented. In 1985, both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted resolutions urging congregations to provide sanctuary to undocumented Central Americans and other refugees fleeing violence and oppression. That example of supporting those fleeing oppression in search of safety and a more secure future, and opposing laws and actions that fail to uphold principles of hospitality and welcome, continue to inspire us today. As Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs said in a 2013 Biennial address, “Audacious hospitality isn't just a temporary act of kindness so that people don't feel left out; it's an ongoing invitation to be part of a community where we can become all that God wants us to be - and a way to transform ourselves in the process. Audacious hospitality is a two-way street, where synagogue and stranger need each other. Hospitality is not just our chance to teach newcomers but, just as important, an opportunity for them to teach us.”
Once again, we are called to respond to the need to protect the lives and well-being of undocumented immigrants fearing deportation. More than 11 million such individuals currently live within the United States, having entered without legal documentation or having overstayed the period for which they were granted legal status. As a result, they are at risk of deportation from the homes and lives they have built here.
In light of Congress's failure to comprehensively address immigration reform, the Obama administration took executive action. A 2012 executive order created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, allowing over 750,000 DREAMERs, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, the ability to work and participate in American society without fear of deportation. There was also an attempt, through the 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) executive order, to allow deferred action status to undocumented immigrants who have children that are either American citizens or lawful permanent residents. That program was never implemented due to challenges in the courts.
Today, the prospects remain dim for legislation establishing comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, in recent executive orders, the Administration has called for the construction of a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border with an increase in border patrol forces and deportations of undocumented immigrants.
In response to the increased threat of deportations, over 200 cities across the United States have designated themselves “sanctuary cities.” (Some cities have used differing designations, including “welcoming communities” and “freedom cities.”) While there is no formal definition of what constitutes a sanctuary city, in general such cities limit their cooperation with federal enforcement of immigration law.
Houses of worship across the country have committed to taking various meaningful actions to assist undocumented immigrants facing deportation. Among these actions is the act broadly known as “offering sanctuary” to provide temporary physical shelter (sometimes known as "harboring"), legal assistance, material support, English and citizenship classes, financial support, public advocacy and education.
Some congregations, after serious discussion within the congregation and with legal counsel, have decided to offer temporary physical shelter to undocumented immigrants facing deportation, recognizing the legal risks of their action. In his challenge to King David, the prophet Nathan offers an exemplary biblical model for confronting a state authority that wields its power unjustly and abusively. To a show of might, Nathan responds with rights, with truth.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Union for Reform Judaism:
- Celebrates the many ways in which Reform congregations are responding to fix what is broken in the U.S. immigration system and to support undocumented immigrants who are in need;
- Recommends that congregations, after discussion within their congregations and with legal counsel, respond to the need to protect the lives and well-being of undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation by adopting a plan that could include one or more of the following:
- Providing sanctuary in the form of temporary shelter within their facilities;
- Providing legal assistance to fight deportation cases; and
- Providing material, financial or educational support;
- Urges our congregations that plan to provide physical sanctuary to thoroughly research, with the assistance of legal counsel as needed, the issues attendant to such a decision, such as:
- Potential liability for "harboring";
- Property and Board insurance coverage;
- Implications for the congregation’s 501c3 tax status;
- Local zoning and occupancy ordinances; and
- The vetting and approval process within the congregation to determine whether a specific individual will be provided sanctuary;
- Commends our congregations that are currently providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants;
- Urges our congregations to join with like-minded groups to encourage local governments to declare themselves “sanctuary cities” and to support local governments and states that are currently under attack by the federal government for having declared themselves “sanctuary cities;”
- Continue to offer guidance through the Religious Action Center to congregations wishing to provide sanctuary in one or more of its forms, such as template board resolutions and contacts to communities already engaged in this work;
- Reiterates its call for the federal government to adopt a comprehensive immigration reform plan that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a plan to address border security, a means to meet the needs of employers, and a method of keeping families together;
- Opposes the selective and/or harsh enforcement of immigration law including the deportations of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children (DREAMERs); and
- Supports the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program.