Iraqi refugee Basma Al Khateeb with Michael Hopkins of Jewish Family Service at Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro. Photo by Chris
Iraqi refugee Basma Al Khateeb with Michael Hopkins of Jewish Family Service at Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Hundreds of people from San Diego’s Jewish community gathered Wednesday for a second time in a month to show their support for refugees seeking to enter the United States.

“We cannot let fear stop us from welcoming refugees,” said Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service. “There are more displaced people in the world than at any time in recorded history.”

The social services agency has settled 3,800 refugees since 2007. Since President Trump’s first refugee ban was halted by the courts, a family from Afghanistan and a family and two single individuals from Iraq have been welcomed in San Diego.

Hopkins spoke at Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro just five weeks after a similar gathering at Congregation Beth El in La Jolla.

Basma Al Khateeb, a single mother from Iraq with two daughters, spent two years being vetted before entering the United States a year ago with the help of Jewish Family Service. She spoke to the crowd about her experience as a refugee.

“We feel more safe with the rule of law and the Constitution,” she said. “We feel blessed, and we have hope.”

But she said that Trump’s ban briefly reminded her of the fear she felt in Iraq, where “you wake up in the morning and you don’t know what kind of bans and restrictions you will have.”

The organizations making presentations and providing support for refugees included the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego County, the Jewish Federation of San Diego, the Leichtag Foundation and HIAS, a national refugee agency founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York in 1881.

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, said America is true to its founding values when it welcomes refugees.

He said Trump’s refugee ban echos a similar, temporary action by Congress in 1921 that ended up lasting through World War II. That ban was aimed at Jews and Catholics, as the current one appears to target Muslims.

The revised ban unveiled Monday is “a little less cruel and chaotic,” Hetfield said, but “an America that does not welcome refugees is not America.”

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.