Rabbis Organizing Rabbis: A Victory for Immigrant Justice
By Joy Friedman
Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) has good news to share! ROR, a project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations, has spent the last year and a half working for justice for immigrants and the rights of American citizenship through immigration reform.
Millions of undocumented workers and families in America are forced to live in the shadows due to outdated and discriminatory immigration laws. If Senate Bill 744 had become law, many of those immigrants would have had a path to citizenship. Without the passage of badly needed reform, thousands of immigrants are torn from their families every day through deportation. At the spring Commission on Social Action meeting, the CSA approved Rabbis Organizing Rabbis’ new Immigration Reform strategy: defending undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Last week, after quick vetting by the CSA, a minyan of rabbinic ROR leaders made their first foray into deportation defense. Working with the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), ROR leaders helped to save Yestel Velazquez, a New Orleans community and civil rights leader, from imminent deportation!
Yestel Velasquez was picked up in a sweep of an auto repair shop known to have Latino customers and workers. Yestel filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties reporting the abusive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations that put him in detention and deportation proceedings, and DHS has opened an investigation. During the course of the investigation, Yestel was granted a 90 day stay of removal, which was revoked the day after he participated in a civil rights briefing. He was told he had only three days before he would be deported, despite nearly a decade of productively living and working in this country. That small window of time afforded NDLON and the ROR leadership an opportunity to intercede on his behalf.
Last Wednesday, ten rabbis from Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Washington DC called ICE headquarters in Washington DC and the ICE Field Office in New Orleans to urge officials not to deport Yestel Velasquez. When I called the ICE offices at the end of the day on Wednesday, the officer remarked that his office had noticed how much the “Reform community” was calling.
Thursday night, our partners at NDLON let us know that Yestel was free! NDLON wrote that, “ICE is releasing Yestel from detention and granting him a new one year stay of removal, while the investigation of the racial profiling-based raids he helped expose continues. This is an important victory against the racial profiling-based raids and a victory against retaliation. It gives us the energy to redouble our efforts to end the raids, and to win a strong new policy that protects defenders of civil and labor rights as part of a broad administrative reform.”
I’m looking forward to more successes to share.
Joy Friedman is Senior Organizer of Just Congregations. Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) is a project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations. Visit rac.org/ror to learn more and join the email list.
In coordination with Just Congregations, the CCAR RavBlog also featured Rabbi Seth Limmer’s celebration of this victory.