Immigration injustice at the U.S.-Mexico border is not a new phenomenon. Mass detention and deportation of immigrants have been escalating since the Clinton administration. Former President Barack Obama militarized the U.S.-Mexico border, doubled the number of Border Patrol agents and deported more than 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, more than any other American president in history, including former President Donald Trump. Obama is widely known in immigration rights circles as the “deporter-in-chief.”
While U.S. President Joe Biden has been in office only for two-and-a-half years, his number of deportees has already superseded those of Trump. Between January 2021 and March 2023, more than 2.28 million people were expelled using Title 42 authority, which is a Trump measure that allows officials to turn away migrants on the alleged grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Under Trump, the United States deported 400,000 people invoking this Title, which was invoked in March 2020.
Arguments to deport immigrants are usually fueled by anti-immigration conspiracy myths that have been spreading for decades.
Moral and economic arguments against deportations
As we can see, it doesn’t matter whether a president pretends to be a believer of multicultural societies (like Obama and Biden) or asserts nativism (like Trump). The abuse of immigrant rights is universally accepted in mainstream American politics. This is especially dramatic as many of these immigrants are fleeing from countries whose political and economic instability has been caused — at least, partially — by U.S. interventions in the past decades. Other refugees are fleeing from draught, failed harvest and natural catastrophes due to climate change. The United States is history’s largest contributor of climate change, and thus bears responsibility for climate migration. These are just some of the moral imperatives for Americans to stop the deportations.
Apart from moral arguments, there is a strong economic interest in immigration, including in so-called illegal immigration. The U.S. economy is heavily reliant on the work of undocumented immigrants, who constitute 65 percent of the country’s agricultural workforce. They contribute to the economy also by paying taxes — not only through paying taxes on everyday purchases but also by reporting each year millions of dollars in income to the IRS. On the other hand, deportation is more costly than social integration of immigrants. The recent passing of a Florida anti-immigration law and its aftermath show how dependent America is on so-called illegal immigrants. After passing the bill, politicians who themselves voted in favor of it started promoting loopholes, just to make sure undocumented immigrants will not actually leave the Sunshine State since this would be disastrous to the economy.
The United States is history’s largest contributor of climate change, and thus bears responsibility for climate migration.
While there are no rational arguments to deport immigrants, there are plenty of emotional ones, usually fueled by anti-immigration conspiracy myths that have been spreading for decades. Although immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens, the overwhelming majority of them are well-integrated and less likely to use welfare benefits than native-born citizens, anti-immigration myths stating the opposite of these facts persist and influence decision-making.
Immigration Justice Now!
As the situation at the border is increasingly dramatic, we need people to act. Jews, too, should take action in pursuing immigration justice. It’s not enough to put misappropriated biblical quotes like “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” and “Love the stranger” on banners and social-media postings. We need to do more.
I suggest a five-point plan to help Jews who would like to act now but are not sure how. These actions can be undertaken individually or as part of Jewish institutions and communities.
- Learning: Jews can educate themselves about immigration in the United States. This learning should cover the complexities of immigration policies, the experiences of immigrants and the systemic challenges they face. Educating ourselves about our Jewish communities’ own migration histories can foster an emotional understanding towards immigration, too. This learning should include the promises of the United States as a “safe haven” for Jews, but also the nativist anti-immigration policies that denied Anne Frank’s family and many others immigration when it was a matter of life and death.
- Advocacy: Jews can engage in advocacy efforts to support fair immigration policies. When it is election season, support a candidate standing for a just immigration policy. Both in the Democratic and the Republican parties, there are candidates against the mass detentions and deportations. After the elections, reach out to elected officials, participate in lobbying efforts and support organizations that work towards comprehensive immigration reform. Jews, too, can influence decision-makers by voicing their concerns and advocating for more humane and inclusive policies. Sharing personal stories is a good way to go.
- Support Immigrant Rights Organizations: Jews can contribute their time, resources and expertise to organizations that focus on immigrant rights and support — for instance, by offering pro bono services. Hablas bien el español? Then volunteer as an interpreter or translator! Did you study law? Provide legal aid! If you can afford it, provide financial support to organizations that assist immigrants in navigating the immigration system.
- Community Dialogue: Go to interfaith events or encourage your synagogue to take part in them. Reach out to immigrant-led organizations to foster solidarity and collective action. By building alliances, you can amplify advocacy efforts, share knowledge and work together towards just immigration. Dialogue with people from outside of your bubble is also an effective way of combating anti-immigration stereotypes and conspiracy myths. This is also the American Jewish community’s own interest as many of the anti-immigration conspiracy myths include antisemitic elements The deadliest antisemitic crime on U.S. soil, the 2018 Pittsburgh terrorist attack, was seen by its perpetrator as a vengeance on Jews “bringing in” immigrants to the United States.
- Grassroots Activism: Jews can engage in grassroots activism and mobilize their local communities to support immigration justice, both in their synagogue and the larger community. This can involve organizing protests, rallies and community events to raise awareness and express solidarity with immigrants. There are already amazing Jewish immigration rights organizations out there, such as T’ruah or HIAS, which you can join and support locally. Of course, there are plenty of organizations outside of the Jewish community that also need you. Now go and act on it!