Join rabbis in advocating for fairer immigration laws

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Rosa (not her real name) is a legal resident of the United States. While driving from Lake Tahoe to celebrate her mother’s birthday, she was pulled over for speeding. And that is when her troubles began.

Rosa was quickly swallowed up by California’s problematic im-migration laws. She did not have her green card with her and was immediately accused of living here illegally. She spent more than two months in jail, unable to contact her family and trying to prove her legal status.

While Rosa’s terrified family searched for her, she was shipped from immigration detention center (jail) to detention center, from the Central Valley to San Diego, to Arizona, to Texas. Ultimately, to her family’s profound relief, she was able to prove that she is a legal U.S. resident and was released.

Along with addressing our broken federal immigration system, it is clear that our state immigration system needs our attention now. On May 23, Reform CA, a campaign of the California Reform Jewish movement, brought more than 40 Reform rabbis and lay leaders to Sacramento to lobby our elected officials to pass the TRUST Act (AB4), critical legislation that will help prevent situations like Rosa’s. The immigration measure, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D–S.F.), passed the state Assembly on May 16.

Reform CA consists of more than 120 California Reform rabbis and their communities who are committed to standing up for justice in our state. Feeling the need to come together as a movement and play a role in repairing the California dream, Reform CA joins coalitions with other like-minded groups to address systemic issues of injustice that hurt our families and our brothers and sisters across lines of race, class and faith. We seek to build a California that is just, compassionate, thriving and inspiring.

Sadly, Rosa’s story is not unique. Every day immigrants in California are caught up in the Secure Communities program, in which federal immigration authorities ask local law enforcement to hold for deportation any undocumented immigrant who has been arrested. As a result, undocumented immigrants continually live in fear of coming into contact with police over a minor infraction (a speeding ticket, broken tail light, selling food without a license, etc.), terrified that they will suddenly find themselves separated from their families and deported.

Although the Secure Communities program originally was intended to target undocumented immigrants who commit violent and serious crimes, it has become an indiscriminate mass deportation program. Seven out of 10 Californians deported last year either had no prior convictions, or prior convictions only for minor nonviolent offenses.

Furthermore, Secure Communities has created a climate of fear in the immigrant community and has adversely affected community policing efforts. Many undocumented immigrants, including victims of domestic violence, are hesitant to report crimes to law enforcement or contact authorities because they believe that contact with the police could result in separation from their families and deportation. Beyond the emotional and community costs, in 2012 California taxpayers spent $65 million to detain people for federal authorities.

Immigration is a Jewish issue. We have been the immigrant, the stranger, perhaps more than any other people in the history of humankind. We know what it means to be an outsider, dependent on others. The Torah reminds us over and over again: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33–34). This commandment is repeated more than any other commandment.

Reform CA acted on this mitzvah by traveling to Sacramento to lobby for greater fairness in California’s immigration laws, and in particular to prevent families from being broken apart by unfair deportations. We advocated for the Senate to pass a robust and expansive TRUST Act and for the governor to sign it into law in a manner that will protect as many immigrants as possible.

Participating rabbis from the Bay Area included myself and Steven Chester of Temple Sinai; Larry Raphael and Julie Saxe-Taller of Congregation Sherith Israel; Ryan Bauer, Carla Fenves and Jonathan Jaffe of Congregation Emanu-El; Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash; and Andi Berlin of the Union for Reform Judaism, along with community members from the above congregations, as well as Beth Am and Shomrei Torah.

We urge you to join us to help make California a more just and compassionate state, as we work with our interfaith partners for passage of the TRUST Act.

Help protect our immigrant brothers and sisters from living their lives in fear of deportation today when tomorrow, they could be on the path to citizenship. To participate, go to to send a letter to your state senator and Gov. Jerry Brown to tell them that you support the TRUST Act.

Rabbi Andrew Straus is a spiritual leader at Temple Sinai in Oakland.