Numbers are an important part of the Jewish experience: the five books of Moses; 7 days of the week; 13 years for a bnai mitzvah; 613 commandments and; 1 G-d. We, along with those of other faiths, use numbers to try to capture the infinity of life as well as the singularity of a connection with G-d and the universe.
So too, do we use numbers in our daily life to help us understand the vast complexity of the world we live in. When looking today at the overwhelming flow of refugees across the globe, numbers are constantly thrown at us: 60 million people on the move; 7.6 million internally displaced in Syria; 4 million refugees from Syria; 1.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey; 800,000 Syrian refugees arriving in Germany in 2015; 1,500 Syrians resettled by the US since 2011. When looking at our broken immigration system, we also look at the staggering numbers: Over 11 million undocumented immigrants and 5 million parents of U.S. citizen children who could have benefited from the President’s executive action announced on November 20, 2014.
Numbers are important to help us grapple with the enormity of the crisis we face today. The numbers, however, can also risk losing the individual connection we have with those individuals fleeing for their lives. The challenge we face, commanded by many faiths to ‘love the stranger’, is to both grapple with the enormity of the current crisis as well as understand the individual stories of each refugee and each immigrant.
On November 22, 2015 HIAS Pennsylvania will host our seventh Annual Refugee Thanksgiving. At that time we will welcome refugees from Darfur/Sudan, Eritrea, Bhutan, Burma/Myanmar, the former Soviet Union and other places who will experience, perhaps for the first time, this quintessential American holiday.
November 20, 2015 also marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s announced executive action. Both events celebrate what is best about America and what desperately needs changing. Both events call upon us to contemplate the large responsibility we face as well as understand the individual struggles and victories of each refugee and immigrant in our midst.
While we had hoped to have a dual celebration, as the President’s program for administrative relief would have given an opportunity for millions of hardworking immigrant parents come out of the shadows, we cannot mark this one year anniversary. Instead, these immigrants continue to struggle to keep their families together and to fully contribute their potential to our society.
Seeking to delay any type of immigration relief, several governors turned to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the President’s executive action. Despite the fact that since 1961, Democratic and Republican Presidents alike issued 39 executive orders
to improve the immigration system, today, efforts to address the need for reform have become politicized, where public figures unleash xenophobia through their comments and use of the media. Those of us who have been here for generations, can give thanks that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents entered at a time when America opened doors for them.
We are sorry that this year, our thanks giving cannot be whole-hearted. On Monday, November 10, 2015 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2 to 1 decision, dealt another blow to the hopes and dreams of 5 million residents—our neighbors and co-workers -- by enjoining the President’s plan for immigration relief.