Americans for Immigrant Justice is the Righteous Crowd Org of the Week!

Brothers who arrived as unaccompanied minors smile as they receive their green cards.

Brothers who arrived as unaccompanied minors smile as they receive their green cards.

Americans for Immigrant Justice

Promoting Basic Human Rights of Immigrants

Tomorrow evening we observe Tisha B’Av (literally meaning the 9th of the month of Av), considered the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. This date marks the end of a three-week period during which some of the most horrible moments in Jewish history occurred, most notably the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. During this period, Jews reflect on what is broken in ourselves and our systems. When we read the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), which literally means “How?!,” the heart wrenching text mourning the destruction of Jerusalem says “עוֹלָלֶ֛יהָ הָלְכ֥וּ שְׁבִ֖י לִפְנֵי־צָֽר - Her infants have gone into captivity” (Eicha 1:5). This week we are featuring Americans for Immigrant Justice in an effort to pick up the broken pieces in our systems and help reunite families.

Thank you to Laura Marder, Righteous Crowd member and Jewish educator at Hannah Senesh Community Day School, for writing this week's lesson. 

Read our interview below with American for Immigrant Justice's Director of Community Relations Ariela Moscowitz. 

What is the mission of Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice)?
To protect and promote basic human rights of immigrants through a unique combination of free direct services, impact litigation, policy reform, and public education at local, state, and national levels.

What is a story from AI Justice that is meaningful to you?
Just last week, a client that our organization had represented for over 20 years finally received her green card! Immigration law is complex and many people remain in limbo for years. Our organization never gave up fighting for this client and after 20 years she can finally breathe a sigh of relief that she will not be separated from her children or other family members.

How would you connect your organization to a Jewish value?
Jewish tradition places great emphasis on concern and compassion for the stranger as we are continually reminded that we were once strangers in a strange land. Exodus 12:49 tells us "There shall be one law for the native and the immigrant who lives among you.” Also, the Torah includes positive commandments to love the foreigner among us (Deuteronomy 10:18) and negative commandments against oppressing or perverting justice for them in any way (Exodus 22:20).

There is no right to free legal counsel in immigration proceedings, so men, women and even children who cannot afford an attorney would be forced to represent themselves in front of a judge and government attorney without the pro bono assistance of organizations like ours. We have never charged a penny for our services and seek to ensure that immigrants have a fair opportunity to present their case. Without an attorney by their side, they are in essence denied access to justice.

In addition to representing individuals (and we strive to protect the most vulnerable - unaccompanied minors, survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking and asylum seekers), we also advocate for the humane treatment of individuals who arrived at our borders seeking safety.

Why did you decide to join AI Justice?
I was working as an advocate at a domestic violence shelter. Many of the families we served had been vulnerable to victimization because they lacked status. Their abuser would then further use their lack of status as an additional means to keep control and power. AI Justice partnered with the shelter to serve survivors who had claims for immigration relief. I saw firsthand that AI Justice's competent legal representation allowed these families to move on to safe, independent and productive lives. With status, they could live freely and safely and had many more opportunities for employment and education, higher wages, better health and reduced rates of poverty.

What has surprised you about working with AI Justice?
I was not aware of just how many differences there are between other court systems and immigration court. Immigrants in proceedings are not appointed a lawyer if they can't afford one; judge must meet quotas and are not an independent judiciary. The former chair of the National Association of Immigration Judges once remarked that they hear "death penalty cases in a traffic court setting."

What's the best part of your job and why?
There are so many!

Here are two of my favorite parts:

1. Sharing our clients' stories with the public. They are stories of strength and resilience and I get to humanize the headlines for people.

2. Experiencing daily the determination, passion and hard work of my colleagues. As new practices and policies are enacted and others change (daily it seems), their job has become increasingly more challenging. Cases take much longer than ever before and are more complex than ever before. They never give up. They fight for their clients and have won cases others thought impossible. They are fierce advocates for justice and human rights.

What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved with AI Justice or cause?
Locally, volunteers (attorneys and others) can help with our screening clinics. As immigrants' rights are being eroded like never before, we are increasingly out in the community, organizing clinics where attendees learn about their legal rights and receive a free screening of their case to determine whether or not they are currently eligible for any form of immigration relief. On a national level, we encourage people to read our reports, stay informed of the facts and let their elected officials (at all levels) know that they are concerned about the lack of access to justice and the inhumane treatment of many immigrants in our country.

To learn more about AI Justice visit www.aijustice.org.


Amy Benarroch