Like so many American Jews, my experience of immigration is personal. As a child, I snuggled in immigrant laps, had my cheeks squeezed by immigrant fingers, watched immigrant lips tell jokes, saw adoration in immigrant eyes. Three of my four grandparents came to this country seeking a safe haven as part of the waves of Jewish immigration to the Goldene Medina, The Golden Land. As Rabbi David Cohen described in comments yesterday, it is an “accident of history” that separates my family story from the stories of the estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Yesterday, I stood with representatives of our local and national Jewish community – Rabbi David Cohen from Congregation Sinai, Tammy Gilden from Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Richard Foltin from the American Jewish Committee; U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ); Latino leaders – Darryl Morin and Roger Rocha from the League of United Latin American Citizens; and DREAMers Monica Sibri and Jose Trujillo. Around us stood more than 100 DREAMers from across the country. As we spoke outside the U.S. Capitol at a press conference in 25 degree weather, shivering from the cold, I felt the fire of knowing that we were doing something righteous and right. We then entered the Capitol for a focused conversation about DACA and the Dream Act in Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. We were just where we ought to be.
As I returned to Milwaukee, I was optimistic.
I am optimistic because of the strong and inspiring bonds that brought us to shared actions, Latinos and Jews. We reinforced our relationship, our alliance, and we articulated the Jewish drive for justice. We said that our values and our history demand that we stand with our Latino brothers and sisters; that we know what it’s like to be marginalized, shoved to the shadows, deported, dehumanized, treated as second class citizens; our cells are imprinted with the stamp of being left behind and treated like a stranger, even in our own home.
We stood together because change begins at the personal level — eye to eye, shoulder to shoulder, rippling from us to lawmakers. Policies change and laws are drafted because people show up and other people allow themselves to look.
I am optimistic because the city was alive with activism; we were part of a passionate swell of people calling for justice for young immigrants and passage of the Dream Act: in addition to our action, we saw young people with orange caps, t-shirts, and beautiful posters in every office building and walking the streets. We followed the news of the more than 100 Jewish activists in a nearby building rallied for passage of a clean Dream Act. They chanted, hooked arms, sang Jewish songs of justice, and many of them were arrested. Together we made clear that the need for legislation that provides DREAMers a pathway to citizenship is urgent. We created a mighty roar that could not be ignored.
I am optimistic because our JCRC flipped the usual organizing model, with national organizations bringing together the local bodies; we convened the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs for action with Latinos. How wonderful it is to be a change-maker, a bridge builder. How exciting it is to watch a new reality burst into existence.
Our Latino-Jewish Alliance in Milwaukee has stood together on many issues, including countering bigotry, advocating for improved police-community relations and police reform, sharing cultural exchanges. And yesterday, we took our partnership to another level as we organized, advocated, and rallied together for passage of a clean DREAM Act. Together we called for our nation to regain its identity as a beacon of hope and justice.
Finally, I am even cautiously optimistic that a bipartisan bill to begin granting citizenship to DREAMers may come in the near future. That’s the word from people on the Hill. Though it’s difficult to break through the dense sense of discouragement and disappointment that envelopes our stubborn, stuck, and shamefully partisan Congress, I heard the light of possibility; a bill is near, they said. It will be imperfect — it will be a compromise — but it will begin to right a longstanding wrong; it will move us along on the arc of justice.