Why DACA Is A Jewish Issue

On Jan. 17, 82 Rabbis and Jewish activists were arrested in the Senate office building for protesting President Trump’s plan to end DACA and Congress’ impasse, since he announced its end in September, to write it into federal law. On the 18th, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas posted a Forward article on Facebook by Rep. Frank Hornstein about a Dreamer who found herself relating to stories of Holocaust victims when visiting the US Holocaust Museum, with a statement that read: “It is well past time that Congress and the President come to a bipartisan agreement to permanently fix DACA”. On the 19th, no spending bill was passed in the Senate over DACA negotiations, and on Jan. 20, the Federal Government went into shut down.

Watching from Israel, I was in shock and wonder at the protest on the 17th, excited to see such a strong and well-publicized Jewish presence standing up for a relevant and important cause. These Rabbis and activists were engaged in what, to me, looked like a truly Jewish act of expression and leadership. They were openly wearing Jewish symbols like the tallit and kippah, singing Jewish songs, and aware of the connection that Jews have to DACA and the dream of other immigrants. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said in support of the protest that “…the Jewish community intimately understands that, at its best, the United States has been a beacon of hope for refugees and immigrants around the world facing persecution or seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”

But seeing the JCRC statement on the 18th confused me. “That’s it?” I thought, “That’s the leadership of the Minnesota Jewish community, where older members wax with pride about their activism in the Movement to Free Soviet Jewry?”. Only after the highly publicized protest in the Senate building, and a day before the vote on the spending bill deciding the future of DACA that would cause the government to shut down did any statement come out taking a stance on DACA.

I love all the Israel brainstorming sessions and community engagement events and know that fundraising is crucial. But where is the leadership on, if you excuse the brashness, real issues? There are over 800,000 people covered by DACA, who have built a life in the United States while unsure every day about their status and what would happen to them. People who were not responsible for their immigration to the United States, by whichever means they arrived. People who are working to get an education and be active members of American society. And their lives are entirely at risk and out of their own hands. With a refugee and immigrant history dealing with anti-Semitism and struggling to reach a better life for their children, I thought this would resonate more with Jewish communities across the US than it seems to have done.

The JCRC statement feels like it’s a statement for the sake of a statement, with no public campaign or movement behind it to support DACA or the DACA recipients. Where the entire Minnesota Jewish community will rise to advocate for Israel and against BDS, there was less than a shuffle of feet for DACA. If the Jewish community is going to be relevant in America today, it has to live and advocate in America today for issues larger than itself. I believe standing up for DACA should have been done publicly by the Minnesota Jewish community months ago, both because it is the right thing to do and because it is the way for Jews to reach beyond the topic of Israel in making relationships with other members of American society. After all, how can we expect other communities to support us on Israel when we only seem to advocate for ourselves?

Yes, today’s politics are hugely divided and partisan. Yes, many in the Minnesota Jewish community might disagree with DACA and support its end. But leadership means standing out front and guiding the community, rather than freezing in fear of differing opinions. David Ben Gurion was told by everyone around him that 1948 was the wrong time to declare a Jewish state. In response, he supposedly brought the leaders of the Jewish Yishuv into a room, locked the door, and did not allow anyone to leave until everyone agreed that a state should be declared, despite advice from the U.S., UN, and other entities.

Call me old-fashioned, but that is leadership. If Ben Gurion took the “too little, too late” path, as the Minnesota Jewish community has taken with DACA, there would not be an Israel. I don’t know if there is time to remedy this lack of leadership when it comes to DACA, but I hope community leaders take notice in the future of important issues in the public sphere and take a strong stance, on time, with a full public campaign to make a change, rather than settling with Facebook statements that are too little and too late.