Update on Immigration Committee Activities During the Pandemic Year

Summarized by Julie Litwin, Immigration Committee Chair

Sanctuary

Our guest suite was completed just prior to the pandemic, and sanctuary volunteer trainings were held in February and early March of 2020. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, this turned out to be good timing because it allowed us to help secure the release of a number of people who were in ICE detention centers, prisons jails, and migrant camps by providing an address for them to come to and a welcoming place where they could quarantine and prepare for next steps. We are happy to report that we have been able to host 6 different individuals or families in the guest suite this year and, perhaps, helped to keep them safe from COVID and from ICE.  

The guests we hosted this year included these individuals and families:

  • a man in his 60’s at high risk for complications of COVID who was being held in ICE detention and needed an address to go to in order to gain release.  He stayed with us for a month to quarantine, rest and make arrangements for longer-term housing.
  • a young man who was at risk for being picked up by ICE after his release from jail.  He stayed with us for several days before moving to longer-term housing.
  • a youth who had been suffering in prolonged ICE detention who couldn’t be released until he had a place to quarantine.  He stayed with us for 10 days before moving into a supportive program for previously detained youth.  
  • a young woman at risk for being picked up by ICE after her release from prison.  She stayed with us for 10 days until she was able to move into a transitional housing program for formerly incarcerated individuals.
  • a family of 5 being accompanied by a Kehilla team who needed a temporary place to stay because there was someone with an active COVID infection in the group housing situation they were going to, which delayed their ability to move in.
  • 2 young adult brothers who are seeking asylum in the US who were held in a camp in Mexico for nearly 2 years before being able to cross into the US.  They needed an address to go to and a place to quarantine before being released into the US. They stayed with us nearly 2 weeks before moving to longer-term housing.

In all of these situations, many Kehilla volunteers provided groceries, home cooked dinners, did laundry, visited outdoors, helped with COVID testing and much more. All of the guests were extremely grateful that they were able to leave dangerous and difficult situations and that they received such a warm welcome at Kehilla.

Accompaniment

Despite the pandemic, our accompaniment teams have been very active.  We have been working with 15 individuals and families this year. Many families suffered job and housing loss, and a number contracted COVID and/or lost family members to COVID in their home countries. In addition to being able to provide some needed financial support, we assisted several people to find new housing, access needed medical, mental health, dental and optical care and supported families trying to navigate school over Zoom.  We are currently working hard to help a number of individuals prepare to take driver’s license exams.  And, best of all, we are thrilled that 2 individuals and a family we’re accompanying won asylum this year!

Advocacy

-Though many courts have been closed, we have been able to attend a number of immigration court hearings over video and support people’s immigration cases in other ways.

-We are actively working on several pardon campaigns to help individuals with past criminal convictions who are seeking a pardon from the governor so that they can remain in the US with family and community. 

-During the current legislative session we are working with a coalition of organizations in support of the VISION Act, which would prevent those being released from prisons and jails from being transferred to ICE.

-This year we have participated in a number of actions to bring attention to the COVID risk in prisons, jails and detention centers, to demand that those at risk be released and that transfers between facilities be stopped.  We participated in actions outside San Quentin, at the ICE building in SF, at the federal court building in SF, at the Berkeley Marina, and we held a banner drop in front of Kehilla in coordination with other banner drops around the state.  You can see our beautiful banner which says “Communities Not Cages” in front of Kehilla.

Contact ImmigrationCommitteeChairs@kehillasynagogue.org to get involved or for more information