CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Congregation Beth Israel held a community information session on what one organizer called a “quiet crisis,": US refugee policy.
The session featured a speech from Beth Israel Senior Rabbi Tom Gutherz about how the history of the Jewish people relates to refugees. It also included a presentation from the International Rescue Committee Charlottesville Executive Director Harriet Kuhr about the history of US refugee policy and recent trends.
“Different executive orders and policies of the administration that have drastically reduced the numbers of refugees arriving to the United States,” Kuhr said. "Just at the same time that the number of refugees in the world is higher than ever, and the need is so great.”
Before President Obama left office, he raised the refugee admission ceiling to 110 thousand for 2017. Shortly after he took office, President Trump reduced that figure to 50 thousand. In 2020, the number will be just 18 thousand. Charlottesville’s International Rescue Committee says that’s the lowest since the US Refugee Program began in 1980.
“It’s difficult for those of us who care about this issue to see our country, which is a nation of immigrants now turning its back on those less fortunate," Kuhr said.
Beth Israel says the refugee issue is a deeply personal one to many in the congregation. In fact, organizers say the issue should be personal to Jewish people around the world and especially in the United States.
“For myself, like a huge number of Jews in this country, come from immigrants,” Congregation Beth Israel’s Social Action Committee member Russ Linden said. "My dad came from Russia. They left just before the Soviets took over. If they had left who knows where we would be if anywhere.”
Organizers wanted to do more than just educate. With representatives from various refugee and immigrant support organizations, attendees learned more about how to get involved at a local level. They were also encouraged to write postcards to their representatives and senators, urging them to support The Grace Act, which would add a minimum for refugee admittance, to be set by Congress.
“The kind of issue of refugee admissions there’s a role for Congress to play,” Kuhr explained. "There’s also a role for the President to play. We’re kind of looking at ways to influence that.”