For the Dreamers – Shabbat Vayera
November 3, 2017 – 15 Cheshvan 5778
Congregation Bet Ha’am
Rabbi Jared H. Saks
Benita Veliz came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents in 1993, when she was 8. Benita graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class at the age of 16. She received a full scholarship to St. Mary’s University, where she graduated from the Honors program with a double major in biology and sociology. Benita’s honors thesis was on the DREAM Act. She dreams of becoming an attorney. In a letter to Senator Durbin, Benita wrote: “I can’t wait to be able to give back to the community that has given me so much. I was recently asked to sing the national anthems for both the U.S. and Mexico at a Cinco de Mayo community assembly. Without missing a beat, I quickly belted out the Star-Spangled Banner. To my embarrassment, I then realized that I had no idea how to sing the Mexican national anthem. I am American. My dream is American. It’s time to make our dreams a reality. It’s time to pass the Dream Act.”
Isabel Catillo graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. She worked her way through college and, in three and a half years, graduated magna cum laude from Eastern Mennonite University with a degree in social work. At a town hall meeting in her home state of Virginia last year, she recounted these facts to Governor Bob McDonnell. The crowd applauded her success and the governor remarked that Virginia needed more people like her. Then, she said she was an undocumented immigrant. Though polite, the governor declined to support the Dream Act. He went on to say that those in the country illegally should be arrested and deported. Isabel’s parents brought her to the U.S. when she was six years old. Without documentation, she is unable to work as a social worker. Now 26, Isabel knows the clock is ticking. Her chance to benefit from the Dream Act will likely end when she turns 30. A tireless advocate, Isabel started the Harrisonburg-based Dream Activist-Virginia advocacy group. Though she used to keep her identity carefully guarded, last year, Isabel participated in a Dream Act demonstration outside a U.S. Senate office. Isabel and four others were arrested. A New York Times article in 2011 described her process of coming out in the open: “At first, I’d only allow the media to shoot my face turned away and only my first name. And then it just progressed. I said, ‘O.K., use my face and you can say I went to a local university.’ Then it was, ‘I graduated from Eastern Mennonite University and I’m Isabel Castillo.’”
Elier Lara’s parents came to the United States in 1994, when he was four. Elier is a computer whiz. In high school, he won awards for outstanding achievement in science and information technology. He graduated in the top 5% of his high school class and was named Tech Prep Student of the Year in Cincinnati. He even started a computer repair business. Elier was a 19-year-old honors student at the University of Cincinnati majoring in Information Technology and has a 3.8 GPA. One of his professors said, “I have worked with thousands of students over the past 30 years, and Elier Lara is that student who comes along every 10 years of so who makes your heart sing.” For Elier, technology and computers are where he wants to spend the rest of his life. He wants to be at the forefront of the technological frontier, implementing and discovering the new technologies of the future. He has said, “I am dreaming big and will continue to do so.” Elier is waiting to utilize his gifts to benefit the country he loves.
These stories, the stories of Benita Veliz, Isabel Castillo, and Elier Lara, are just three of the stories of the nearly 800,000 Dreamers in our country today, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were just children. This Shabbat has been designated by our movement as Immigrant Justice Shabbat and Monday is a national call-in day to Congress to get the Dream Act of 2017 passed and signed into law.
Rabbi Chuck Briskin writes, “As we read the powerful stories from Parashat Vayera, first of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality towards the three strangers who visit their tent followed by the cruel treatment these same strangers receive when they arrive in Sodom, we must ask ourselves this question: What kind of place do we aspire to be? Do we want to be Mamre, where homes like Abraham and Sarah’s were open on all sides, ready to welcome weary visitors with food and drink and hospitality? Or do we prefer Sodom where outsiders were always at risk, where strangers, the poor and vulnerable were always the most endangered? The Jewish answer should be clear, as Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests is among our most treasured values. Despite many powerful forces in our nation that seem to prefer Sodom to Mamre, may we always put the values of Mamre above those of Sodom.
“The Tosefta to Sota 3 and Sanhedrin 109a teaches, ‘Because of their wealth, the people of Sodom became haughty. They said to one another, “Since gold and silver come from our land, why should we allow strangers to visit our borders, eat our food, use our resources, and share what is ours? They will only take what we have, and there will be less for us. Let’s keep them from entering, and let’s drive out those who get in as soon as possible – especially the poor or the sick ones.”’ Ibn Ezra also comments that the problem was that not one citizen protested the cruel treatment of the stranger.”
These are the lessons of this week’s Torah portion. We can choose to be like the Sodomites whose greatest sin, according to the Sages, was inhospitality. Or, we can choose to be like Abraham and Sarah, who waited at the open flaps of their tent eagerly awaiting the arrival of strangers who would appear before them in the wilderness, perhaps fleeing conflict and strife, and certainly in need of food, water, and shelter. When I ask whom would you rather be, there is only one correct answer.
When you came in the sanctuary, you were given information about the national call-in day organized by the Reform Movement to pass the Dream Act of 2017. For a moment, now, I want to look at some texts with you that will help you craft your message to Senator Collins, Senator King, and Representative Pingree.
On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced its decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This decision puts at risk 800,000 undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and know no other country as home. The Reform Movement calls on Congress to immediately pass a clean Dream Act of 2017 and I need your help.
The bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, introduces in Congress in July 2017 by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), if passed, would grant current DACA recipients permanent resident status on a conditional basis; permit conditional permanent residents to then obtain lawful permanent residence status (known as a “green card”) if they attend college, work in the U.S., or serve in the U.S. military; provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, after they have been in conditional permanent resident status for 8 years and then lawful permanent residence for likely 5 years; and improve college affordability for undocumented youth by changing rules that limit their access to in-state tuition and college loans. It is imperative that Congress pass a clean bill, with no added enforcement measures or funding for a border wall.
Currently, Representative Chellie Pingree is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives. Neither Senator Susan Collins nor Senator Angus King are co-sponsors in the Senate. Please join me in calling Congress on Monday and urge passage of the Dream Act of 2017. We are no strangers to being strangers. We know what it is like to be outsiders, to depend upon acts of justice from others for our survival. We do not carry the legacy of Sodom; we are the children of Abraham and Sarah, who modeled radical hospitality for us.
“Just Another Foreigner” by Safam