Immigration policy could benefit from dose of Jewish tradition

By Sarah K. Molina

Judaism tells us we must welcome the stranger.  This obligation is repeated through the Torah. For example,  Exodus 23:9 tells us, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  Leviticus 19:33-34 instructs that, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” Later, Numbers 9:14 and 15:15-16 remind us, “You shall have one law only the same for the native born and stranger.”  We reinforce the imperative to welcome the stranger every year when we begin our Passover Seders by saying, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat.” 

But, unfortunately, rather than welcome the strangers among us, the federal government keeps 34,000 “strangers” locked up in immigrant detention, not because of need, but because Congress has mandated an immigrant detention bed “quota.”  In essence, no matter how many immigrants are actually in the system, or what the real national security needs are, the government, through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is forced to keep 34,000 immigrants locked up per day at a cost of over $2 billion a year to the American taxpayers.  ICE is the only federal or local law enforcement agency that is required to lock people up to meet a quota.  Other agencies don’t have similar quotas because quotas make no sense. 

Obviously, those who might pose a threat to our community must be detained.  But tens of thousands of strangers among us are detained every night just to meet the quota.  They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children of U.S. citizens.  They are your neighbors, people you know, and members of our community.  They don’t need to be locked up to meet a court date or comply with court orders. Using alternatives to detention like GPS ankle monitors would save taxpayer money while keeping families together in the community and show that, we, as a society, are willing to live up to the biblical imperative to “not do [them] wrong.”

Moreover, we could use some of that $2 billion for a few other things our country direly needs: infrastructure, education, anti-poverty programs, job training and more. This quota is bad policy, it is wasteful, inhumane, contrary to Jewish teaching and Congress should eliminate it.

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Sarah K. Molina is a St. Louis immigration attorney and member of Central Reform Congregation.  She lives in Olivette with her husband and three children.