Looking out on the several hundred protesters gathered in downtown Sacramento, Rabbi Mona Alfi thought of her late father, an immigrant from Iran.
Standing on a riser, she spoke to the crowd, which was blocking traffic within shouting distance of the hotel where Attorney General Jeff Sessions had checked in. He was in Sacramento to announce a federal lawsuit against California for its lenient policies toward undocumented immigrants.
“When I look at the immigrants who come to America today,” Alfi said, “both those who come with documents, and those who come only with hopes, those who have come as adults and those who came as children, dreamers, in their parents’ arms — I see in them the same fears and yearnings as my family who immigrated here.”
Alfi was one of many representatives of the local Jewish community, joined by Christian pastors, community activists, union leaders, elected officials and others, who turned out for the March 7 protest against Sessions and the lawsuit.
State Sen. leader Kevin de Léon and Assemblyman David Chiu also addressed the crowd, which mobilized at the corner of Fifth and J streets in front of the Kimpton Hotel where Sessions was staying.
The Justice Department suit charges that several California laws are preventing U.S. immigration authorities from doing their jobs by allowing local law enforcement to refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to identify, arrest or jail undocumented workers.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared that Sessions and his Justice Department are in effect “going to war” with California and called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt.”
I see in them the same fears and yearnings as my family who immigrated here.
Alfi condemned the immigration policies of the Trump administration, telling J. that immigration is a central Jewish social justice issue.
“I can’t name anything more relevant,” she said. “Passover is at the end of the month. It’s the holiday that gives the Jewish people our mission statement. We are commanded 36 times about how to treat the stranger in our midst. It goes to the heart of the immigration issue.”
Also attending the protest was Lynn Berkeley-Baskin, a Folsom resident who is active with the Jewish Community Relations Council and a self-described “bridge-builder between the Jewish and African American communities.”
In the wake of increased deportations, raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigration bans and other steps undertaken by the Trump administration, Berkeley-Baskin said many community relations activists and others have been shifting focus toward immigration justice.
“This morning I saw Jorge Aguilar, superintendent of Sacramento City [Unified School District],” she said of the protest. “That’s a big thing, that we actually have people in power joining this collaboration to restrict ICE and keep immigrants here.”
Alfi has served as senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento for 20 years. Congregants there voted to make it a sanctuary synagogue, and many members have been active in immigrant rights, joining forces with organizations such as PICO.
The issue especially touches Alfi because of her own Jewish family history.
Her father “came here because he believed in the American judicial system and the rule of law,” she said, “that it judged all people fairly and with equity. When I stood up there speaking, it was he who I held in my heart. He would be crushed to see how immigrants are treated in our country.”