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CEO Michael Hopkins' remarks at Immigrants and Refugees: A Jewish Call-to-Action! Community Forum on February 2, 2017.

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Good evening, I am Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service. Thank you all for coming out this evening and showing your support and willingness to get involved. It is truly inspiring.

Showing up is the first step and we hope that it is only the beginning. Together, we need to take action and keep these issues alive.

At JFS, for nearly 100 years we have been welcoming the stranger. It is at the heart and soul of what we do.

We are proud of our founders, a group of women who in 1918 went down to the Mexican border to offer food, water and shelter to refugees fleeing Europe.

After WWII, JFS helped reunify families torn apart by the Holocaust. And, in the 80s and 90s, we helped resettle thousands of Soviet Jews.

And since 2005, we’ve resettled more than 3,800 refugees from all over the world, not because they were Jewish but (pause) because we are Jewish.

Today, JFS is one of four agencies in the County that welcomes and settles refugees. This past year, our four agencies have collectively resettled more than 4,000 individuals from more than 25 countries.

And now the door is slammed shut.

It is hard to believe that as of February 3, we will not be meeting anyone at Lindbergh Field for the next 120 days because our refugee borders are closed. To us that means 129 people who were already positioned to be resettled by JFS, have had their immigration process halted.

It means, for one family: Saad, Su-ha and their two young boys who, having fled their home in Iraq and living in a refugee camp in Jordan for the past eight years will not be coming.

Saad was a database programmer, and Su-ha an architect, their young boys have spent their entire lives in a refugee camp. They only want a better future for their family, free from terror, free from persecution.

We knew they were coming to San Diego and so did they. And, now the doors are shut.

Can you imagine this?

You have fled terror and you have been in a refugee camp in Jordan for 8 years.

You have gone through the most intense vetting process in the world that includes

  • Interviews with specially trained Homeland Security officers, 
  • biometric and biographic research,
  • medical screenings,
  • and forensic document testing.

Each step of the way is reviewed by

  • the National Counterterrorism Center,
  • Department of Defense, 
  • FBI, 
  • State Department, and Homeland Security.

If any one agency had a doubt about Saad and Su-ha and their family, they would have been rejected. They were not rejected. And, now the door is slammed shut.

We must know the facts.

Less than 1% of all refugees worldwide are resettled. And to get to America, our government selects you, you don’t get to pick the USA. This process takes an average of 2 years and for most of the refugees we resettle they have waited 4-5 years.

We must speak up against fear.

We must know that since 9/11 over 800,000 refugees have been resettled and not a one has been involved in an act of terrorism.

And, having a refugee policy that has a religious test punishing one group or favoring one group is also wrong.

Closing our doors for four months to all refugees and banning Syrians indefinitely is not aligned with our American values.

In about 120 days we will know if this Executive Order has been lifted and if Saad and Su-ha and their two young boys and thousands others will be able to resume their journey.

On day 66 of these 120 days, --and yes, we count each of these days as every refugee will be-- we, will be sitting down with our families and friends at our Passover Seders, where we will tell our own story of exodus from slavery to freedom.

This is not just a symbolic retelling of the past for almost all of us, our families have lived the refugee story in recent generations.

For many, a particular highlight of the Seder is the singing of Dayenu.

“If God had freed us from slavery in Egypt, but not given us the Torah, a new home, a new start,” we proclaim over and over, “that would have been enough.”

As a people, we have been reminded over and over again, that we cannot be silent.

We were once strangers in a the land of Egypt

Dayeinu that would have been enough

36 times in the Torah we are commanded to welcome the stranger

Dayeinu that would have been enough

More than 138,000 Jews in the first year of WWI settled in the US, including my own grandparents

Dayeinu that would have been enough

If only our borders where open during the Holocaust, how many other grandparents would be alive today?

Dayeinu that would have been enough

We believe that stopping refugee resettlement for any period of time, undermines our Jewish beliefs and our nation’s founding principles.

We must not turn away our brothers and sisters seeking safety, freedom and hope.

In Isaiah it is written, "We are a light unto the nations."

As a Jewish people,

Now is not the time to run into darkness.

Now is the time for action.

Now is the time for us to shine and be that light.

 

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