Security and “Welcoming the Stranger” Can Go Hand in Hand



The immigration debate has been less of a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill than it was last year or the year before. However, the Department of Homeland Security and many of the courts are poised to make significant changes for how undocumented immigrants and immigrant communities are treated in the United States. The part of President Obama’s executive action that ended the controversial Secure Communities program is being slowly implemented throughout throughout DHS, as thousands of DHS officers are being trained in the new enforcement priorities.

As President Obama announced his executive action on immigration in November 2014, most focused on the President’s plan to provide deportation relief for over 4 million immigrants, through the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. While those programs have been bogged down in court challenges, replacing the Secure Communities program is underway. The Secure Communities program had been a method for the Department of Homeland Security to work with local law enforcement to identify and remove undocumented immigrants. Instituted by President George W. Bush, the program used what many called “overhanded tactics” to remove immigrants. For example, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a part of DHS, would request that local law enforcement agencies hold immigrants past their scheduled time of release so that ICE could transfer them to federal custody. Activists have charged that President Obama’s expansion of the program helped his administration deport an unprecedented 2 million immigrants through his first six years in office, and many cities refused to cooperate with the program in protest of the overhanded tactics.

In place of Secure Communities, DHS has instituted the Priority Enforcement Program, which focus on three main priorities of immigrants who should be removed: convicted criminals, terrorist threats and recent immigrants. Those who are not included in those categories will largely be left alone. Though it remains to be seen how the program will work in practice, it marks a noticeable shift in how the federal government can cooperate with local officials to keep our communities safe, instead of removing as many undocumented immigrants as possible.

As Jews, we remember that we are commanded 36 times in the Torah to welcome the stranger. It is said that the commandment appears so many times because welcoming the stranger is one of the hardest commandments to fulfill, and we must be reminded many times to do so. Over the course of its history, the United States has at times struggled to welcome the stranger, and there remains much to do to make our immigration system a welcoming, compassionate one. This new policy represents an important step towards realizing that goal by better facilitating integration into American society instead of complete ostracization or even deportation.

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Jonathan Edelman

About Jonathan Edelman

Jonathan Edelman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. A 2014 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jonathan is originally from Jacksonville, FL and is a member of Congregation Ahavath Chesed.

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