Metro Detroit faithful show support for immigrants, refugees
The treatment of migrants at the nation’s southern border has spurred members of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield Township to action.
The synagogue recently launched an initiative to raise money to help asylum seekers in the United States before their cases are heard.
“We had been searching for a way to tackle as a community some of the human rights violations and horror stories that we’ve all seen over the news,” said Rabbi Jen Lader. “We believe that in order to live our values as people of faith, we have to walk to walk. It is crucial to love people and take care of people.”
As legal battles brew over new asylum restrictions for immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and authorities as well as activists target immigration policies, Temple Israel and others across the region are calling attention to the fraught issue.
This week, the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills installed a traveling exhibit that highlights the thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their families.
The congregation on Friday also was scheduled to host “No More Kids in Cages: The Moral Failure at Our Border,” an event devoted to responses to the border.
Next week, Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills hosts “Strangers in our Midst," during which rabbis are slated to illustrate concepts in the Torah, the Jewish holy text, that focus on caring for the vulnerable, organizers said.
And on Aug. 13, activists plan a demonstration in Dearborn to protest immigration policies.
Those involved in the efforts note their pursuits keep the emotional topic in the public consciousness.
“When I first came up with the idea, I was afraid it would be swept under the rug and the children would be forgotten,” said Elaine Roseborough, a retired attorney who designed the Birmingham display. “I had no idea it was going to get worse. It’s even more relevant now.”
At Temple Israel, congregants had long been seeking ways to speak out.
After a judge last year ordered President Trump's administration to stop separating more than 2,500 migrant children from their families at the southern border, members discussed finding ways to sponsor some of the youths. As outrage grew over reports of squalid conditions at some border detention facilities, they also considered what would work to help the detainees, Lader said.
Eventually, the synagogue connected with associates in the Jewish Asylum Seekers Initiative, or JASI, a coalition of volunteers and leaders in Albuquerque dedicated to helping asylum seekers, said Jessica Corley, its site coordinator.
The group is among several in that area involved in the cause. Another organization works to send them busloads of asylum seekers who have passed an initial border screening called a "credible fear" interview, found a sponsor in the country and are awaiting proceedings for their case, Corley said.
In the short window for the seekers before they travel to the sponsor and are scheduled to check in with ICE officials, JASI sets them up in a hotel, provides food, clothing, toiletries, medical care and more. They also prepare a “dignity” bag to accompany them on their journey, often thousands of miles on a bus.
The numbers of arrivals have dwindled now that a federal judge has blocked the Trump administration from enforcing new restrictions that would prevent most migrants at the southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they passed through another country first, Corley said.
But her group anticipates more soon, and donations are “the backbone” of its work, Corley said. “It’s only funding that we have. It requires us reaching out and widening our net.”
In the weeks since its Help From Afar initiative started, Temple Israel has worked with the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and partners such as the Michigan Muslim Community Council to raise about $40,000, Lader said.
“The response has been unequivocally: ‘Yes we need to do this,’ ” said Andy Bocknek, an executive committee member from Farmington Hills. “We think that by helping individual families, people who are looking for safety, we can really make an important big difference to them.”
Those in the Muslim community also were eager to join in.
“It’s not political. As human beings, as American citizens, we have to do this to relieve suffering and help people who are in need,” said Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi, the Michigan Muslim Community Council board chairman. “That’s what unites everyone in this mission.”
Taking a stand also inspired Roseborough, whose exhibit of stakes adorned with toys and stuffed animals symbolizing separated children has stood outside churches in Ferndale and Detroit.
At Birmingham Temple, it stands on a hill with another sign indicating the congregation supports immigrants and refugees.
When Roseborough visited early Thursday, she saw a woman who had driven up and stopped to view it. After the 86-year-old mentioned the situation was “sad,” the visitor simply nodded.
“It’s hard to imagine that little children would be treated so cruelly,” Roseborough said.
The focus comes as an unprecedented number of families have been coming to the southern border over the past year, straining government resources and resulting in dangerously overcrowded detention facilities.
From October through the end of June, the Border Patrol apprehended more than 688,000 people, over half of them families and unaccompanied children. Although people from all over the world enter the United States via the Mexican border, the vast majority come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, three Central American countries where violence and poverty have gripped many lives.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has taken a series of tough measures to crack down on immigration, including hardening of asylum rules and forcing migrants to wait in Mexico before coming into the U.S.
The latest announcement by the Trump administration disqualifies any asylum seeker who traveled through another country to get to the U.S. The move, which critics say violates U.S. and international law, is being challenged in court, and a federal judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction on Wednesday halting the policy while the lawsuit plays out.
Such issues have disheartened Birmingham Temple attendees, who practice humanistic Judaism, which combines Jewish customs with humanism: a focus on reason, ethics and social justice rather than a supernatural authority.
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, who gave a sermon Friday on the topic, pointed out that the asylum seekers are not unlike migrants in earlier generations.
"These are in very many cases, people simply fleeing with the families trying to make a better life for themselves," he said.
Associated Press contributed.