By Dave Sorter
While several rabbis and others were visiting McAllen to see for themselves what is happening to separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AJC Dallas Regional Director Joel Schwitzer and others are working with Latin American advocates to reunite families and lobby for changes to the Trump administration’s stringent policies to prosecute illegal border crossers.
Schwitzer and his staff traveled to Austin on June 21 to participate in a working group organized by the Mexican American Legislative Council (MALC). Schwitzer was invited after he testified to MALC leaders about the AJC’s opposition to the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy and support of “humane” immigration reform. President Donald Trump’s June 20 executive order ended the separation of families at the border, instead detaining families together.
“The big takeaway was that there’s still a great deal of work to be done,” Schwitzer said about the meeting. “The executive order doesn’t give a lot of detail on how to reunite families. And without additional legislation, the families being held will be separated again after 20 days.”
He is referring to the Flores settlement, in which a court ruled children can’t be detained for more than 20 days.
The local AJC is working with the Jewish/Latino Alliance and the national AJC has established a Jewish Latino Leadership Council to continue efforts to change policy and law.
“The advocacy efforts need to continue, and we need to hold elected officials accountable for what is happening at the border,” Schwitzer said.
The AJC is advocating for passage of two bills currently before Congress:
• The Help Separated Children Act, filed by Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., which would allow children of detainees to be placed with foster families while their parents are detained and let children visit their detained parents.
• The Keep Families Together Act, filed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would outlaw family separations, except in cases of abuse.
Meanwhile, a delegation from the Jewish Latino Leadership Council is in McAllen today to see conditions and advocate for change.
The national AJC and the Greater Dallas Section of the National Council of Jewish Women are among the almost 350 signatories to a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen opposing the zero-tolerance policy.
“This policy undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people,” the letter states. “As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression, we believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”
The local AJC chapter will also continue its efforts. It is already planning a congressional candidates’ forum in October.
“The midterms are very important,” Schwitzer said about the Nov. 6 election. “We’re looking to give people an opportunity to hear candidates from key congressional races.”