Jewish Groups at the Forefront of the Pennsylvania Compact

Posted by Liza Lieberman on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Jewish organizations around the country are devoted to fighting for humane and just immigration reform. In Pennsylvania, HIAS and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Philadelphia have partnered with various other local advocacy groups to create the Pennsylvania Compact, a declaration of five principles to guide the state's immigration discussion and policy making. Inspired by the Utah Compact, which was signed in November of last year, the Pennsylvania Compact aims to influence state legislators to enact "practical, inclusive policies that promote family cohesion, freedom, public safety and a strong economy." The Compact clearly states that immigration reform is a federal policy issue, calling on Pennsylvania's congressional delegation to lead efforts to "ensure smart and effective enforcement of federal laws" while urging state legislators to "adopt reasonable policies addressing immigrants in Pennsylvania." In addition, the Compact outlines immigration policies which aim to keep families together, benefit state businesses and workers, allow local law enforcement resources to focus on criminal as opposed to civil activities, and create a free and welcoming society.

In a recent City Council hearing, Judi Bernstein-Baker, Executive Director of HIAS Pennsylvania, argued against various state bills which call for making English the "official" language in of Pennsylvania, deny citizenship to children born in the U.S., and call for mandatory use of E-Verify. Bernstein-Baker declared that such bills would "create an atmosphere of hatred and fear and would drive away immigrants from our state, undermining any hope of economy recovery." She cited the Pennsylvania Compact as a way to show state legislators that "immigrants are part of a solution to our state, not part of the problem."

Judith Ginsburg, a member of the Immigration Task Force of the Philadelphia JCRC, also recently testified in support of the Pennsylvania Compact arguing that the principles outlined in the document are "inherent in religious tradition." She said that, "for Jews, the need for an immigration policy that keeps families together and creates pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants [...] is a moral and ethical issue." She also aligned Jewish ancestors with immigrants of today, saying that "migration has been a central element of the Jewish experience since biblical times when famine forced the Jewish people to flee Canaan and resettle in Egypt."

So far, twenty seven states have rejected SB 1070-copycat legislation in the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions and five states have passed such legislation, although provisions of three of those laws having been blocked. Legislation is still pending in five states such as Pennsylvania, where Representative Daryl Metcalfe has introduced the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," HB 738. If passed, this bill would give local law enforcement authority to apprehend undocumented immigrants for deportation; punish employers who hire illegal aliens; and eliminate public benefits, welfare, and education for undocumented immigrants. Representative Metcalfe is the founder of State Legislators for Legal Immigration, which aims to protect citizens from "the many clear and present dangers directly associated with illegal immigration." Bernstein-Baker rejects this implication and argues that immigrants are "economic engines," citing that 41% of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.

Please contact to learn more or to get involved in immigration advocacy in your state.

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