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Jewish Groups Unite Behind Push for Immigration Reform

Posted on 14-Jul-2013. Updated on 04-Sep-2013.
Topics: Immigration Reform Lobby  

"Ethics and Self-Interest" causing unprecedented Jewish push for immigration reform.

Those leading an active push for the bill, which will offer a path to citizenship for some of the nation’s 11 million undocumented aliens, include the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Bend the Arc and the National Council of Jewish Women.

The Senate vote — and the even harder struggle that will follow in the Republican-controlled House — represents the fulfillment of a sustained campaign by the Jewish community for immigration reform, which has built momentum over the past decade.

Whether or not the necessary votes are mustered from both houses to land a historic immigration law reform bill on President Obama’s desk, Jewish outreach, particularly in the Southwest — home to the largest share of America’s emerging and increasingly powerful ethnic and interfaith populations — promises to be politically and socially influential beyond the issue it addresses.

California, with 2.6 million undocumented residents, is a front line in the battle for this reform. And a Jewish establishment ever mindful of its need to operate through alliances and coalitions to advance its own interests is not blind to the implications of the issue in a country whose demography is shifting rapidly. In addition to working with Latino groups, the ADL’s Southwest regional office has forged alliances with Asian groups representing undocumented Koreans, Chinese, Filipino and other Asian Pacific immigrants in the Southland.

“It’s the ethical thing to do,” said HIAS president and CEO Mark Hetfield, of the community’s immigration reform activism. But he quickly added, “It’s in our strategic interest.”

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The Ford Foundation recently awarded a two-year $1 million grant to the AJC’s Bridging America Project, which is planning “joint advocacy workshops in Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C.; a ‘national conversation’ among Latino and Jewish leaders about issues of mutual concern, and conferences in Houston, Miami and New Jersey on the economic benefits of immigration, among other activities. Salas has also worked closely with the ADL, which keeps a keen eye on extremist groups that have set up vigilante patrols on the border between the United States and Mexico. An ADL study reported that “violent incidents against illegal immigrants have been brutal and are occurring with greater regularity, further intensifying the atmosphere of fear and suspicion on both sides of the border.” The ADL has also tracked a rise in hate crimes, discrimination cases and bigotry against Latinos.

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“It’s not a one-way street,” Salas said. When it comes to Israel, the Latina activist suggested, the two groups’ relationship may help to modify anti-Israel viewpoints and foster dialogue rather than demonization. “It comes up,” Salas said, referring to the Middle East issue, “and there’s a perspective: ‘Isn’t this [U.S. treatment of Latinos] the same as in Israel with the Palestinians?’ It’s an opportunity to talk that through, to talk in the context of global immigrant policy, where people can be critical, but in good faith.” Newly arrived Latinos tend to show higher rates of anti-Semitism, said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. She attributed the phenomenon, which shows up in surveys, to “exposure to some religious teachings.” But the next generation, she said, is no different in its relationship with Jews than the rest of Americans.

Asians are also active in coalitions with Jewish groups addressing immigration issues. “We appreciate the partnership with our Jewish allies,” said Betty Hung, policy director of the L.A.–based Asian Pacific American Legal Center. An estimated 3 million undocumented U.S. residents are Asian. California counts the nation’s largest Asian population without legal resident status — about 400,000. APALC has been an active participant in the ADL’s Asian Jewish Initiative, founded in 2006, which brings together civic, business, academic and faith leaders in the L.A. community for social mixers, awards dinners and educational programs.

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Ira Handelman, chair of AJC’s Los Angeles Public Policy Committee, said that if and when the legislation becomes law, the interfaith and immigrant-activist coalitions in which Jewish organizations are now involved may move on to tackle other issues. These include the ongoing national debates over education policy, economic development and social justice, apart from immigration. “Just because they sign something,” Handelman said, “doesn’t mean that’s the end. It’s the beginning.”

Sources:

[1] "Jews Unite Behind Push for Immigration Reform", Rex Weiner, Forward, 26-June-2013

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