border crisis, detention center

The Metro Detroit Jewish community is stepping up and speaking out against the crisis at the border and conditions at detention centers.

The accounts from overcrowded filthy detention centers, where asylum-seeking migrants are being warehoused and separated from their children, who are being held in unsanitary conditions, can make one feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

In 2017, Jewish Detroiters joined their neighbors to protest the Muslim ban at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in the winter and again in the summer to protest the rounding up of their Chaldean neighbors in front of the U.S. District Court in Detroit.

But this time, finding ways to vocalize frustrations or help at a grassroots level — be it sending needed supplies or donating one’s legal or medical services to our far-away southern border — are being blocked.

According to news reports, border guards, due to federal regulations, are turning away offers of diapers and toiletries.  To offset the severe conditions, Congress sent President Trump a $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package, which he was expected to sign. The bill did not contain stronger protections for migrant children in overcrowded border shelters that House Democrats wanted.

Lasting Harm Being Done

While Jewish organizations and congregations are finding ways to help as best they can, mental health care professionals are sounding the alarm of just how damaging the family separations can be to the children enduring the detention centers.

Child psychology professor and researcher Ericka Bocknek of Wayne State University said she and her colleagues are doing their best to educate politicians on the harsh, lasting impact the detention and separation from family will have on the migrant children for years to come, and perhaps the rest of their lives.

“Loving care and being in a nurturing environment are not a luxury for young children and teenagers,” stressed Bocknek. “The trauma of being separated from one’s family and the harsh unsanitary conditions in these centers are causing the kind of trauma in children where high levels of neurotoxins are being released into their bodies. It will have long-term effects on their mental and physical health. There is a reason we got rid of orphanages in this country. No amount of (psychological) intervention can substitute for loving, nurturing care from a relative. Those children need to be moved out and into the care of supportive caregivers immediately.”

Families Continue to be Separated

Americans were led to believe that after Trump signed an executive order in June 2018, the practice of separating families at the border ended.  But that is not the case, and it is getting increasingly harder to put faith in governmental institutions, said Ruby Robinson, managing attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC).

“It is just shocking across the board. The scale of the squalid conditions in these detention camps is a major calamity, and human rights violations are occurring,” Robinson said. “What we are finding is that people cannot put much trust in ICE. There is a loss of trust in government institutions for reliable action or even reliable information.”

Robinson said that while people should write to their local representatives to implore that Congress makes ICE follow the law, which states that minors be kept in the least restrictive setting possible and kept there for only 72 hours. Robinson said some unaccompanied migrant children have been moved to Michigan and can be helped by contacting Bethany Christian Services or Samaritas.

Robinson said MIRC is at caseload capacity and his staff are doing the best they can to provide justice for their clients.

“We go through extraordinary lengths to represent and advocate for as many clients as we can,” Robinson said. “’The number of cases has doubled in the last five years and unfortunately, we have had to turn down many cases because we just cannot keep up with the demand.”

Other ways to help legally include:

  • The Lawyers for Good Government Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is mobilizing lawyers and law students to travel to the southern border and is accepting monetary or frequent flyer miles donations to pay for travel expenses. For more information, go to
  • Together Rising, a national and international nonprofit organization that specializes in crowd funding, has raised millions of dollars for legal support for unaccompanied migrant minors provided mainly by the Immigration Law Clinic at University of California Davis.

Local Efforts to Make a Difference

Sarah Allyn, executive director of Repair the World, said her organization on June 22 worked with Detroit Jews for Justice, We the People – MI, Rapid Response and MIRC to mobilize 150 volunteers in more than 300 hours of service ahead of a potential ICE raid.

Although the raid was delayed, volunteers were able to distribute information in both English and Spanish so vulnerable populations will know their rights in the event of an ICE raid.

One participant was Dana Kornberg, a sociology graduate student at the University of Michigan who is active in Detroit Jews for Justice. She said the images of the mistreated children and news of them being separated from family members are “too familiar and scary” to her as a Jew.

Kornberg said in the long term, advocating for sanctuary cities can be effective in stopping the harsh deportations and detentions.  However, this spring in Lansing, House Bills 4083 and 4090 were approved by various committees. If passed into law, they would punish cities, counties and local government entities that limit cooperation and information sharing with federal authorities on immigration matters, effectively forcing local law enforcement to act as immigration enforcement agents.

Rabbi Jen Lader of Temple Israel of West Bloomfield said though it is difficult to directly help those in the detention centers, she was able to find a way to bolster relief efforts with Congregation Albert of Albuquerque, N.M.

Since the early spring, ICE has deposited busloads of migrants daily to this southwestern city. These migrants have been cleared to enter the country and now await their asylum hearing, but they have been stranded in this city with no provisions, and their host families may be hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

“We (at Temple Israel) have tried for weeks, but we cannot find any way to get anything or any (health or law professional) into these detention centers directly at the border,” Lader said. But with persistence, she found another way for her community to help.

“At Temple Israel, we are kicking off an emergency campaign to help asylum-seeking families. The inhumane … treatment of children and adults who are seeking refuge in the ‘Land of the Free’ is abhorrent, and we, as Jews, have to take action today in whatever way we can.”

Temple Israel is looking to raise $6,000 or more to support the efforts of Congregation Albert. This amount will cover one busload of 50 people with lodging, meals and snacks, clothing, basic medical care and transportation to wherever their sponsor is located. Each family is also given $15-20 transportation allowance, which is often a three-day bus ride to their destination. For more information, go to

“We are proud to be partnering with Congregation Albert in this holy work,” Lader said. “While we can’t be on the ground in Albuquerque, we can provide financial relief to support these people and truly live our Jewish values.”

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at