2018-10-10 / Voice at the Shore

A message we all need to hear

FEDERATION AT THE SHORE
DR. HARVEY WOLBRANSKY
Chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)

There has been little press coverage of the recent White House announcement that it intends to lower the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States through the Refugee Admissions Program from the current level of 45,000 (2018) to only 30,000 in 2019, which will be the lowest number in the history of the program. More disturbing than this, however, is the possibility that the Jewish community will be excluded altogether from participating in the national refugee program.

When President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980 into law, more than 200,000 refugees were admitted to the United States, principally from the Soviet Union (many of them Soviet Jews), Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. To properly resettle these refugees, President Carter established a unique service partnership with nine agencies. Refugee Council USA has been comprised of three secular and six faith-based agencies since that time, and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was and is the only Jewish organization in the partnership.

HIAS has consistently been among the top three performing agencies in the program, and has often held the top spot, so it is surprising to have learned that the only Jewish agency in the program may be one of as many as three to be cut from the program by the Trump White House.

While there are fewer Jewish refugees seeking asylum in the United States today than there were when the exodus of Soviet Jews was taking place during the Carter and Reagan administrations, there are still Jewish refugees who seek resettlement in the United States. While most Jewish refugees today come from Iran and Ukraine, and, while HIAS does not only work with Jewish refugees, it is the only agency that does, and is certainly the only agency equipped to do so.

If the White House does indeed cut HIAS from the national refugee program, then the American Jewish community will effectively be excluded from refugee resettlement efforts, and Jewish refugees will have lost their only advocate for resettlement in the United States. If HIAS is cut from the program, it will likely happen between now and the end of the year, meaning HIAS will be out of refugee resettlement early in 2019. This is why we must act now.

This is an issue, should it come to pass, that should concern every Jew in the United States, regardless of political affiliation, as it is one that will significantly limit our ability to advocate and assist vulnerable Jewish populations living in volatile regions of the world. As anti-Semitic activity increases in many parts of the world, American Jews must advocate against further reductions to the numbers of refugees, and the American Jewish community must be actively represented in the national refugee program.

JCRC is working with our national partners to develop a list of action steps, including telephone and letter campaigns, every one of us can take part in. We must come together in one voice, as One Jewish Community, to ensure American Jewry has a seat at the table, and to ensure the United States will always provide shelter to the world’s vulnerable and oppressed, Jewish or not. Please call (609) 822-4404, to find out how you can help make it happen. s

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