Sabrina Farber doubted the meeting with the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee would happen.
“I kept thinking that his office would cancel, he's so busy, there’s so much happening in Washington. He can't possibly have time to meet with constituents to discuss refugees and immigration, can he?” the member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan thought.
Not only did Rep. Jerry Nadler meet with HIAS activists for over an hour, but he impressed them with his deep knowledge of the issues and his compassion for refugees. The experience was both inspiring and sobering for Farber.
Over the past six weeks, nearly 500 activists met with more than 50 members of Congress in 18 states as part of HIAS’ nationwide Asylum Advocacy Campaign.
From Alaska to West Virginia, activists reached out in both Democratic and Republican districts, to meet with representatives while they were home during the August Congressional recess. HIAS’ largest district advocacy project yet empowered grassroots leaders across the country to voice their outrage at the treatment of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The meetings were an opportunity for advocates to make the case face to face with members of Congress and demand urgent moral leadership to ensure the safety, dignity, and protection of refugees and asylum seekers. Advocates discussed the importance of: protecting the right to seek asylum; ending the “Remain in Mexico” program; ending the use of prolonged immigration detention and addressing the conditions in detention centers; raising refugee admissions; and engaging with local initiatives around creating welcoming communities.
During these meetings, activists also hand-delivered HIAS’ Clergy Letter in Support of Asylum Seekers, signed by over 1500 Jewish clergy from 48 states, along with background materials on asylum and the Presidential Determination, which sets the annual cap on refugee admissions.
Jolie Schwab of Manhattan and others had a big agenda but felt like her group established a real rapport with their Congresswoman. “Our preparation really paid off when she asked for suggestions and we had very specific suggestions about actions she could take, including specific legislation she should be supporting,” said Schwab, who met with Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
In partnership with the ADL, Jewish Council of Public Affairs, T’ruah, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, HIAS grassroots advocates met with more members of Congress than ever before during a single congressional recess. They established and strengthened relationships with their elected officials, laying the foundation for future advocacy opportunities.
In Chicago, the Jewish community organized five in-district meetings in four districts between August 2-23. The meetings were jointly supported by HIAS Immigration and Citizenship at JCFS Chicago and will be followed-up by the launch of a new local Jewish coalition in support of refugees and asylum seekers, so they can continue to expand their impact together.
In North Carolina, multiple meetings were secured in the Raleigh–Durham–Chapel Hill Triangle Area, which led to an invitation from Rep. G. K. Butterfield’s office to host and join an Immigration Round Table event days later with interfaith partners and social service providers in the area.
Some meetings also had direct advocacy impact. Members of Congress were introduced to HIAS’ work and priorities, learned about issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers, and were reminded of the impact on their districts and states. Some encounters yielded immediate responses. After meeting with a group from HIAS, California Rep. Mike Levin tweeted: “Just a reminder that seeking asylum is legal.” Other meetings, such as one with New York Rep. Thomas Suozzi, led to his co-sponsoring the GRACE Act (HR 2146) the very first day Congress was back in session.
HIAS is grateful for all the people who participated in the Asylum Advocacy Campaign and for those who did not, it isn’t too late to get involved in local and national advocacy. Your voice is needed now more than ever. Check here for other ways to get involved and fill out this form if you are specifically interested in organizing an in-district meeting.