A Mat­ter of Con­science: Why I Sup­port the Sanc­tu­ary Move­ment

Forward Magazine - - OPINION - Jane Eis­ner Jane Eis­ner is the For­ward’s edi­tor-in-chief. Contact her at eis­ner@for­ward.com

In the early days of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, I wrote an es­say ex­press­ing se­ri­ous reser­va­tions about the mod­est but grow­ing move­ment by churches and syn­a­gogues to of­fer aid and hous­ing to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Since then, Amer­ica has changed, and so have I.

My ini­tial un­ease was not be­cause of what “sanc­tu­ary” tries to do, I wrote at the time. There is a long and pow­er­ful tra­di­tion of bi­b­li­cal teach­ings ex­hort­ing us as Jews to re­mem­ber the stranger, care for the vul­ner­a­ble, and be­stow for­give­ness and com­pas­sion on those who may have erred for a good rea­son.

No, it was be­cause of what sanc­tu­ary rep­re­sents — a fur­ther politi­ciza­tion of re­li­gious life. “While I ap­pre­ci­ate and even ad­mire the moral com­pul­sion of syn­a­gogues will­ing to go so far as to break the law in this par­tic­u­lar case, what about oth­ers?” I asked. “What about the houses of wor­ship that have pol­i­tics I don’t agree with — the ones that ex­hibit an equal moral pas­sion to, in their words, pro­tect the un­born? Or re­sist ac­com­mo­dat­ing trans peo­ple? Or same-sex mar­riage?”

I was wor­ried that the 700 or so houses of wor­ship which had signed on to the move­ment in early 2017 were of­fer­ing to break the law with­out a spe­cific pol­icy rem­edy in mind, thereby harm­ing their abil­ity to ef­fect deeper change by hand­ing de­trac­tors a sim­plis­tic ral­ly­ing cry: Law and or­der! Re­spect the sys­tem! Pro­tect real Amer­i­cans!

I still har­bor those con­cerns. But more than a year later, I am in a dif­fer­ent place be­cause this na­tion is in a dif­fer­ent place. I could never imag­ine then that thousands of chil­dren would be torn from their par­ents and dis­persed through­out the coun­try, pawns in a cyn­i­cal po­lit­i­cal game sup­pos­edly de­vised to de­ter il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, but ac­tu­ally in­tended to do griev­ous harm.

I could never imag­ine that the top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial in the coun­try would mis­quote the Bi­ble to de­fend this de­prav­ity.

Per­haps I was naive. But I see now that when the state acts this cru­elly to fam­i­lies flee­ing hard­ship, vi­o­lence and per­se­cu­tion — even if the fam­i­lies are breaking the law by seek­ing refuge — and when the po­lit­i­cal power struc­ture abets this cru­elty, tak­ing no steps to end it, then faith com­mu­ni­ties must fill the moral breach.

As Rabbi Jeremy Kal­manof­sky wrote to An­sche Ch­esed, my syn­a­gogue: “This na­tion — orig­i­nally dedicated to the propo­si­tion that all peo­ple are cre­ated equal — has shown its ca­pac­ity to be cold and soul­less. Re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties like ours — orig­i­nally and for­ever dedicated to the propo­si­tion that all peo­ple are cre­ated in the im­age of God — should show our­selves to be the warm heart and mer­ci­ful soul of this coun­try.”

Since Donald Trump be­came pres­i­dent, the Sanc­tu­ary Move­ment has grown sub­stan­tially: More than 1,100 houses of wor­ship have joined, in 40 net­works and coali­tions. Thirty-six peo­ple are in pub­lic sanc­tu­ary in 26 cities — among them, a mother and child in a church just a block from my home.

Unfortunately, while faith lead­ers across de­nom­i­na­tions have de­cried the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s venge­ful pol­icy, one group re­mains stead­fastly be­hind it: white evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. It is true that a few of their lead­ers bravely crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent. But oth­ers re­fused to do so, and the rank-and-file con­tin­ues to pro­vide Trump with the core sup­port and sheen of re­li­gios­ity that he craves and needs.

More than any other re­li­gious group, white evan­gel­i­cals fa­vor “sub­stan­tially ex­pand­ing” the wall along the U.S. bor­der to Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey re­leased June 18. Much more, in fact: At 70%, evan­gel­i­cal opin­ion was 20 points higher than white main­line Protes­tants and Catholics and 50 points higher than African Amer­i­cans. (Jews were not spec­i­fied in this sur­vey.)

As Amelia Thom­son-DeVeaux noted on the web­site FiveThir­tyEight, other polling showed that white evan­gel­i­cal

Protes­tants were the only re­li­gious group in which a ma­jor­ity (57%) said they’re both­ered when they en­counter im­mi­grants who don’t speak English. They are also the like­li­est to say that they have lit­tle or noth­ing in com­mon with im­mi­grants.

This so­cial anx­i­ety and racially tinged neg­a­tiv­ity is chan­neled through the all-pur­pose nod to­ward “law and or­der.” You hear this rhetoric time and again, from ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials to preach­ers to pun­dits to or­di­nary folk.

It even pre­cedes the Trump era. A 2015 sur­vey by LifeWay Re­search found that 72% of evan­gel­i­cals be­lieved im­mi­gra­tion re­form should pro­tect the unity of the fam­ily. But far more, 88%, said it should “re­spect the rule of law.”

This is what I find so disin­gen­u­ous. So un­faith­like. The im­pli­ca­tion that those who fa­vor a moral im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy are an­ar­chists seek­ing only chaos at the bor­der is tweeted reg­u­larly by the pres­i­dent. And it’s ridicu­lous. Some hot­head pro­test­ers are call­ing for the abo­li­tion of U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, but most Amer­i­cans op­posed to Trump’s poli­cies and rhetoric on im­mi­gra­tion — and that is most Amer­i­cans — rec­og­nize that there are cheaper, more ef­fi­cient, and more hu­mane ways of pro­tect­ing the bor­der and de­cid­ing who re­ally de­serves to be here.

Mon­i­tor­ing pro­grams, for ex­am­ple. A 2014 govern­ment re­port found that an ICE mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram cost $10.50 per per­son per day, while the com­pa­ra­ble cost for de­ten­tion was $158, Mar­garet Tal­bot wrote re­cently in The New Yorker. And it works: Ninety-five per­cent of asy­lum-seek­ers in that pro­gram be­tween 2011 and 2013 showed up for their pro­ceed­ings.

An ob­ses­sion with “law and or­der” has long been code in Amer­i­can his­tory for re­strict­ing le­gal en­try of un­de­sir­ables, be they Chi­nese and other Asians in the late 19th cen­tury, Jews and other Eastern Euro­peans in the 1920s, and so on. No won­der Jews and other im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties view this po­lit­i­cal slo­gan as a con­ve­nient cover for deeper prej­u­dices and anxieties.

That is why I am no longer re­luc­tant to en­dorse civil dis­obe­di­ence when ex­treme mea­sures are called for to coun­ter­act even more ex­treme govern­ment edicts. Be­cause in the end, laws must be moral. They must strive to preserve the dig­nity of ev­ery hu­man be­ing, re­gard­less of race, birth­place, faith, eco­nomic class and po­lit­i­cal be­lief.

Re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties have an obli­ga­tion to act as the con­science of this na­tion, not as apol­o­gists for im­moral poli­cies that vi­o­late the very faith-based val­ues they pro­fess to hold.

‘This coun­try has shown its ca­pac­ity to be cold and soul­less. Re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties like ours should show our­selves to be the warm heart and mer­ci­ful soul of the coun­try.’

THIS LAND WAS MADE FOR YOU AND HER: Maya Casil­las, 7, takes part in a vigil to protest the Trump crack­down on ‘sanc­tu­ary cities.’

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