After a pause for the Jewish holidays our refugee biweekly updates are back. A lot has happened with refugee resettlement since we last communicated. However, refugee news is no longer making the front-page headlines despite the fact that the Trump administration continues its effort to dismantle the refugee program and to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country.
This Shabbat we will read from Parashat Vayera which begins with Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers into their tent. They welcome them, give them a place to rest, water and a home-cooked meal. It turns out that the three men are messengers of God and tell Sarah, who is an old woman, will have a son in the coming year. Their prediction, a miracle, does come true. I think about this story in contrast to where we are as a country today. Locally, here in Madison and in communities around the country, people are responding to refugees like Abraham. They are running to greet them and respectfully providing for their basic needs as they set new homes and lives in this country. Meanwhile the federal government continues its attempts to block refugee entry into the country.
Last week President Trump signed a new executive that generally bars 11 nationalities and stateless Palestinians for at least another 90 days. These eleven nationalities made up 44% of arrivals in the fiscal year from October 1, 2016- September, 30 2017, primarily from Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Iran. The percentage is likely an even higher of those who have been approved for arrival in 2018 and are waiting in the overseas pipeline. The countries are Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and stateless Palestinians. All of these countries except North Korea and South Sudan are Muslim-majority countries.
The Administration’s announcement effectively dismantles the refugee resettlement program. These announcements will affect nearly every refugee waiting for resettlement. It also means that we will see very few refugee arrivals in the next few months and throughout the next year.
We at JSS are awaiting advice from HIAS about what this will be for our community. Meanwhile we are brainstorming ways to keep our refugee resettlement program intact during this new 90 day period so we are ready to welcome refugees when they are allowed in. We are angered and frustrated that we have the resources, the community support and strong structures in place to welcome families but are not receiving any new families. Families in desperate situations who have been approved for resettlement in the United States are now being told that their dreams of a new safe and secure life are on hold.
May the wisdom of this week’s Torah portion of welcoming the stranger with open arms lead us to work for more just policies in the weeks and months to come.
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney