Opinion

Why Immigration Reform Is A Jewish Issue

Jews understand that while we may not be the ones on the buses today, we’ve been there before.

Stosh Cotler is the CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.    
National Journal
Stosh Cotler
Add to Briefcase
Stosh Cotler
April 11, 2014, 2:13 a.m.

A 12-year-old boy and his sib­lings are smuggled out of their coun­try and brought to Amer­ica. They grow up poor, but their hand-to-mouth lives here are still bet­ter than the pos­sib­il­it­ies they faced in their home coun­try. With time, they come to prosper and to love their new coun­try, to think of it as their real home.

This is a fa­mil­i­ar story among today’s im­mig­rants, who are trapped in the middle of a fierce na­tion­al de­bate about im­mig­ra­tion re­form. But it’s also the story of my grand­fath­er, who fled pogroms in Kiev 100 years ago, and found a home in the United States.

The Jew­ish story is a story of im­mig­ra­tion.

Some 2.5 mil­lion Jews ar­rived in the United States between 1881 and 1924. The fact is, many Amer­ic­an Jews are only two or three gen­er­a­tions re­moved from their first days in this coun­try. But our ex­per­i­ences with im­mig­ra­tion stretch far deep­er than that. Dur­ing Pas­sov­er, the di­a­spora will re­cite the story of our ex­odus from Egypt on one of our most widely prac­ticed hol­i­days. Our Pas­sov­er story of walk­ing through the desert for 40 years in search of a new home is shared around Jew­ish din­ner tables across the globe.

Jews have al­ways been im­mig­rants. We’re al­ways search­ing for a safe place to call home. That is one reas­on we are so in­ves­ted in mak­ing sure that today’s im­mig­rants have the op­por­tun­ity to build their lives in Amer­ica like we did.

Right now, at least 11 mil­lion men, wo­men, and chil­dren are liv­ing in the United States with the real fear that they could be thrown in­to a de­ten­tion cen­ter, de­por­ted, and torn from their fam­il­ies at any time. These are our neigh­bors, our friends, and our chil­dren’s class­mates. Even if we don’t have a per­son­al con­nec­tion to any of the mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented people in Amer­ica, they are people whose in­nate dig­nity de­serves re­spect.

Today, up­wards of 30,000 people are be­ing held in de­ten­tion cen­ters across the coun­try, many without any way to con­tact their fam­il­ies. Every day an av­er­age of 1,120 people are put on buses and dis­carded across the bor­der. This is no way to treat people who have worked hard, paid their taxes, and con­trib­uted to the coun­try like the rest of us — they are “dif­fer­ent” only be­cause they lack the right pa­pers.

Our im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem has crumbled to the point of cruelty. It is a crisis of gov­ernance and a crisis of our na­tion­al con­science. Jews un­der­stand that while we may not be the ones on the buses today, we’ve been there be­fore. We know that when one group is threatened, it puts every­one at risk.

One of Juda­ism’s cent­ral teach­ings is to “wel­come the stranger,” to of­fer shel­ter to those in need and to ac­cept those who we per­ceive to be dif­fer­ent from us. Con­trary to the in­di­vidu­al­ist­ic, go-it-alone at­ti­tude that has pre­ven­ted our coun­try from mak­ing pro­gress on many press­ing so­cial is­sues in re­cent years, Jews be­lieve that our fates are bound up in one an­oth­er — that we’re all in this to­geth­er. Put in a dif­fer­ent way, we are re­spons­ible for each oth­er, and an in­justice against one hurts every­body. It also means we are re­spons­ible for cor­rect­ing the in­justices in our world.

That’s where polit­ics comes in. Polit­ics, while of­ten ugly, can also be the busi­ness of mak­ing our coun­try a bet­ter and more equit­able place.

Nearly 70 per­cent of Jews sup­port com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey re­leased by the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute and the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion in March 2013. We are op­tim­ist­ic, but we un­der­stand that pro­gress does not just hap­pen — it takes a lot of hard work.

That’s why Bend the Arc has been or­gan­iz­ing the Jew­ish com­munity to fight along­side im­mig­rants’-rights groups, civil-rights cham­pi­ons, and faith lead­ers to pres­sure the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives to bring im­mig­ra­tion re­form to a vote. It’s why Jew­ish con­stitu­ents held a meet­ing with Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor to dis­cuss im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and why Bend the Arc and ten of the na­tion’s lead­ing Jew­ish so­cial-justice or­gan­iz­a­tions have cir­cu­lated a pe­ti­tion ur­ging Rep. Can­tor to put im­mig­ra­tion re­form up for a vote on the House floor. It’s why we’ve sent rab­bis and Jew­ish cit­izens to meet with their mem­bers of Con­gress in their home dis­tricts. It’s why our Rabbi-in-Res­id­ence was ar­res­ted along­side im­mig­rants and mem­bers of Con­gress dur­ing a rally for im­mig­ra­tion re­form on the Na­tion­al Mall. And it’s why hun­dreds of Jews fas­ted in their homes in solid­ar­ity with the act­iv­ists who camped out in front of the Cap­it­ol and went without food for 22 days.

The Jew­ish com­munity has come a long way in Amer­ica. From the days when my grand­fath­er and his sev­en broth­ers and sis­ters each had a single pair of shoes, my own fam­ily and many oth­ers have helped to build a highly or­gan­ized and in­flu­en­tial com­munity. We have a polit­ic­al op­por­tun­ity now to ad­dress a fun­da­ment­al in­justice in our coun­try. Op­por­tun­ity brings re­spons­ib­il­ity, and we must ask ourselves, “How will we give back to the coun­try that offered us a home?”

Amer­ica was built by im­mig­rants. They have plowed our heart­land, strengthened the fab­ric of our cit­ies and small towns, and en­riched our na­tion as a whole. Fam­il­ies that have been here for gen­er­a­tions know that. New cit­izens and as­pir­ing Amer­ic­ans know it. Elec­ted lead­ers know it. Many loc­al gov­ern­ments are by­passing Con­gress and tak­ing steps to make their cit­ies more wel­com­ing for im­mig­rants be­cause they know it, too.

Our treat­ment of im­mig­rants has al­ways defined our char­ac­ter as a na­tion, for bet­ter, or worse. At Bend the Arc, we are com­mit­ted to mak­ing it bet­ter.

Stosh Cotler is the CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jew­ish Part­ner­ship for Justice, a na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tion in­spired by Jew­ish val­ues and the stead­fast be­lief that Jew­ish Amer­ic­ans, re­gard­less of re­li­gious or in­sti­tu­tion­al af­fil­i­ations, are com­pelled to cre­ate justice and op­por­tun­ity for all Amer­ic­ans.

HAVE AN OPIN­ION ON POLICY AND CHAN­GING DEMO­GRAPH­ICS?

The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic, and so­cial ef­fects of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force, and health. Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. Please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

What We're Following See More »
A CANDIDATE TO BE ‘PROUD’ OF
Chicago Tribune Endorses Gary Johnson
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."

FUNERAL FOR ISRAELI LEADER
Obama Compares Peres to ‘Giants of the 20th Century’
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Speaking at the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, President Obama "compared Peres to 'other giants of the 20th century' such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth who 'find no need to posture or traffic in what's popular in the moment.'" Among the 6,000 mourners at the service was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama called Abbas's presence a sign of the "unfinished business of peace" in the region.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many New Voters Does the Clinton Campaign Aim to Register?
2 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Three million—a number that lays "bare the significant gap between Donald Trump’s bare-bones operation and the field program that Clinton and her hundreds of aides have been building for some 17 months."

Source:
“STANDING FOR PRINCIPLES”
Chicago Tribune Endorses Johnson
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a somewhat shocking move, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president, saying a vote for him is one that voters "can be proud of." The editorial barely touches on Donald Trump, who the paper has time and again called "unfit to be president," before offering a variety of reasons for why it can't endorse Hillary Clinton. Johnson has been in the news this week for being unable to name a single world leader who he admires, after earlier this month being unable to identify "Aleppo," a major Syrian city in the middle of the country's ongoing war.

Source:
NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
×