So close yet so far. That about sums up the current state of comprehensive immigration reform in this country. With the U.S. Senate poised to pass far-reaching legislation, the U.S. House of Representatives appears ready to quash it even before debate has begun.
Pressure on our legislators must persist to ensure that such reform — which is supported by the majority of the American public and long has been considered a bipartisan issue — does not fade away once again.
As an immigrant people in a nation of immigrants, we Jews should understand more than most the value of a policy that is both just and compassionate. We have, throughout our history, benefited — and at times been betrayed — by U.S. policy on this issue.
Jewish immigration to this country, spanning three centuries, provided vast opportunity for not only our relatives but also the country that welcomed them in. And except during a tragic period during World War II when Jews fleeing the Nazis were at times turned away from these borders, that symbiotic relationship continued through the last great wave of Russian-Jewish immigration in the 1990s.
Last week, a program by the Russian-Speaking Professionals Network of Greater Philadelphia aptly drew the link between our own history and today’s immigration policy. The program, “From Refuseniks to Dreamers,” featured immigrants and activists from the Soviet Jewry movement, the Latino community and the pro-immigration community.
While the political and cultural contexts may differ, at the heart of each movement is the story of individuals yearning for
a better life, seeking new opportunities, free of religious, political and economic persecution.
The Senate’s legislation, hammered out in a rare spirit of bipartisan collaboration, makes economic, political and moral sense. It provides a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented individuals in this country and creates a reasonable approach to future immigration.
Some 80 rabbis and communal leaders sent a letter to Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey urging them to support the legislation. “Our views are shaped by our religious and ethical traditions, our history in the U.S., core American values, and basic economics,” said the letter, which was spearheaded by the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Coalition on Immigration.
Immigration is about much more than a set of laws and regulations; it is an often inspiring personal human experience. It is time once and for all to translate those stories into a sound and just policy that will fix what is broken and restore our country to a land of opportunity and dreams for all.