Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


JCRC Goes to the Border

June 7, 2019
Posted by: Diane Fisher, Director, JCRC of Silicon Valley

Today's blog is a special guest post by the director of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley's Community Relations Council. It originally appeared in Here & Now.

Since January, the old Family Courthouse downtown San Diego has been serving as a short-term shelter for over 5,000 migrants. Even though its physical appearance is dingy, it is a very moving space of Torah-in-action—a place where people released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are warmly welcomed by Jewish Family Services.

When the federal government abandoned it's Safe Release program that helped migrants arrange travel plans to family and sponsors, Jewish Family Services and their partners in the San Diego Rapid Response Network stepped in to make sure families didn't end up homeless. Governor Newsom has earmarked $20M in his proposed budget for a three year period of support for these services, after getting $5M approved by the legislature this fiscal year.

On May 10, I went on the Legislators' Border Trip organized by SF JCRC. We personally witnessed the "fence" so often discussed, and met refugees and asylum seekers helped by Jewish Family Services of San Diego. It was a journey that has become a part of me. I am again reminded that as Jews, we often do in order to understand.

Our journey began with a 1.5 mile walk on a muddy path in Border Field State Park, led by our guide Pedro Rios from American Friends Service Committee. We traced the steps of family members who come to Friendship Park to meet their loved ones on the other side.

Ironically, Friendship Park was dedicated in 1971 by First Lady Pat Nixon as a symbol of bi-national friendship. Today, the road floods regularly in the winter, and vehicle access is closed forcing even visitors in wheelchairs and young children to walk through mud and contaminated water. Homeland Security paid $5.9M to California Parks and Rec for the 53 acres taken for border security, but the road improvements have yet to happen.

On arrival at the side gate of the old courthouse, we were surprised to find a guard, and no visible evidence of the shelter program--perhaps not everyone is so welcoming. But we immediately were initiated into the project by the animated and passionate Manager of Public Affairs for JFS, Ashley Harrington. Her ability to build relationships across complex resources has resulted in coordination with ICE, who now drops off migrant families at the shelter each afternoon.

Winding our way through the dreary hallways, we came upon the welcoming efforts.

Signs in Spanish explained the essential needs being provided: food, clothing, showers, phone calls, a bed, travel and legal help. Lists of distances from San Diego provided a sense of the travel ahead. Our hearts were full as we helped serve lunch to the people at the shelter--a flexible effort that can serve from 40 to 200 people on any given day.

Perhaps the most important opportunity was to hear directly from a group of women sitting where the children were playing. Through translators, we asked why they came. Abusive husbands, gang violence, lack of economic opportunity to provide for their children were among the reasons. We asked what would they most like? Their answer: To be treated as human beings, with dignity.

Note: Other trip participants included Assemblymen Ash Kalra and David Chiu, Catholic Charities Refugee Foster Children Program Director Candace Chen, Chief Consultant for CA Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus Cat Nou, and SF JCRC Public Policy and Community Building Director Jessica Trubowitch.

80 years ago today, the U.S. turned away the MS St. Louis. A ship full of German Jews seeking asylum from Nazi persecution was sent back to Europe, resulting in the murder of 254 of the Jews on board. Our history leads us to take action today on behalf of refugees.

PHOTO: Friendship Circle at Border Field State Park in San Diego. This spot is open for a few hours on weekends for people to see family on the other side of the border. (More photos)