As the Debate Re-ignites, Prominent Jewish Leaders Urge Congress to Pass Fair and Workable Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Posted on Tue, Mar 20, 2007 at 11:30 am

(Washington, D.C.)– More than 30 prominent leaders in the American Jewish community sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to pass fair and workable immigration reform, and to conduct the debate in a respectful and civil manner that will counter anti-immigrant bigotry.

The letter, spearheaded by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was signed by David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; and Howard Rieger, president and CEO of United Jewish Communities; among other leaders of prominent national and local organizations.

As Congress is about to consider comprehensive immigration reform, prominent Jewish leaders from around the country are speaking out about the need to reform the United States’ immigration system in a way that makes the country stronger and safer.

“It’s really crucial that Democrats and Republicans work together so we can cross the finish line this year with a bill that is both humane and practical,” says Lisa Shuger, director of HIAS’ Washington, D.C. office. “Tensions have already surfaced over what is likely to be the most contentious issue in the debate – whether or not those coming in the future to work should be given a path to citizenship and how many can get on that path, as well as how to craft a workable legalization program for the 12 million undocumented immigrants already here.”

It is critical, says Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS, that the Jewish community’s perspective is heard on immigration reform. “Our message is one of principle, reason, and compassion. We believe America can have an immigration system that simultaneously and humanely addresses border security, the rule of law, and our historic values as a welcoming nation.”

The letter reads, in part, “As leaders of Jewish community organizations, we look both to the teachings of our Jewish religious and ethical tradition, and to core American values relating to immigrants, for guidance on immigration reform.” The letter continues by calling on Congress “to ensure that any bill aiming to reform our immigration system preserves the United States' longstanding commitment to provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution.”

Full text of the letter sent to Speaker Pelosi:

*For a copy of the letters sent to House Minority Leader Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and Senator Minority Leader McConnell, please email

Dear Speaker Pelosi:

With the House of Representatives preparing to consider legislation to address the complex problems of undocumented migration to the United States and legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants already hear, we write to support your efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year that is workable and fair.

As leaders of Jewish community organizations, we look both to the teachings of our Jewish religious and ethical tradition, and to core American values relating to immigrants, for guidance on immigration reform. With 36 references in the Torah mandating that we not only welcome, but love the stranger, we call on Congress to show leadership by providing an effective legal immigration system that is characterized by rule of law, national interest and compassion. Comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system is critical to this nation’s security, economic and humanitarian interests. We urge Congress to pass legislation this year so that families can be reunited and we can restore the rule of law at the border and in the workplace once and for all.

We also call on Congress to ensure that any bill aiming to reform our immigration system preserves the United States' longstanding commitment to provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution. The United States has long been a leader in the protection of refugees at home and abroad. Yet in the past decade we have noticed a discouraging trend in legislation and regulations, making our laws more difficult to navigate by victims of persecution who are most often empty-handed, traumatized, and separated from their loved ones. While we support the government's right to ensure that the asylum system is not abused, this goal must be achieved without further traumatizing victims of religious and other persecution, and putting them at risk of wrongful return to those who mean them harm.

A comprehensive approach to immigration reform must recognize and respond to the reality that approximately 12 million undocumented individuals currently reside in the United States; that unrealistic immigration laws and ineffective border enforcement policies have created conditions that have resulted in thousands of deaths and increasing violence in the border regions; and that extensive backlogs for family immigration visas have led to prolonged and inhumane separation of families. Furthermore, the failure to reform our immigration laws perpetuates an illegal immigration system and undermines government efforts to target enforcement resources on criminals and terrorists who pose grave dangers to the country. Continuation of the status quo is not only unwise, but also unacceptable.

Any final comprehensive immigration reform legislation must include provisions that provide:

· Border protection policies that are consistent with American humanitarian values, protect legitimate asylum-seekers, and are effective against illegal migration, allowing authorities to successfully protect the integrity of our borders and prevent the entry of those who would do us harm;

· Opportunities for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria and, over time, pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and eventually United States citizens;

· Reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families, who currently must wait many years, to be reunited with loved ones;

· Wider legal avenues that correspond with the needs of American employers, through which workers and their families can enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner with their rights fully protected; and

· Programs to enhance citizenship and encourage the integration of newcomers into American society.

As the debate progresses, we strongly believe that the tone of the immigration reform debate is as important as the legislation and policy it produces. We encourage Congress to engage in reasonable discourse characterized by civility and respect that is mindful of the very people affected by this legislation. A recent report by the Anti-Defamation League reminds us that there is a direct connection between the national policy debate and the atmosphere surrounding the daily lives of immigrants, showing that extremist groups are seeking to exploit national divisions and spread a message of xenophobia, promote hateful stereotypes, and incite bigotry and violence against Hispanics, regardless of their immigration status. The tenor and outcome of our national debate over the fate of undocumented persons in the United States will speak volumes about where we are heading as a society, and Members of Congress should seek opportunities to speak out against bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice in our society, wherever they occur.

We firmly believe that with your leadership, Congress can ensure that our country's immigration laws are reformed in a comprehensive manner that will make the United States stronger and safer while honoring our tradition as a nation of immigrants.


National Organizations

David Harris

Executive Director

American Jewish Committee

Neil B. Goldstein

Executive Director

American Jewish Congress

Abraham H. Foxman

National Director

Anti-Defamation League

Daniel S. Mariaschin

Executive Vice President

B'nai B'rith International

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman


Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

Gideon Aronoff

President and CEO

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Genie Cohen
Executive Director
International Association of Jewish Vocational Services

Rabbi Steve Gutow

Executive Director

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Simon Greer

President and CEO

Jewish Funds for Justice

Dr. Richard Lederman

Director, Public Policy and Social Action

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Howard M. Rieger

President and CEO

United Jewish Communities


Local/Regional Organizations

Arthur C. Abramson, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Baltimore Jewish Council

Judith Bernstein-Baker, Esq.

Executive Director

HIAS and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia

Sheila Decter

Executive Director

JALSA – Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action

Vic Rosenthal

Executive Director

Jewish Community Action - St. Paul, Minnesota

Gina Kaiser, Chair

Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee - Overland Park, Kansas

Steven J. Brodie


Jewish Community Relations Council, Greater Miami Jewish Federation

Nancy Kaufman

Executive Director

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston

David Gutin


Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation, Philadelphia

Gary Walk
Jewish Community Relations Council
Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County

Wendy Wagenheim, President

Robert Cohen, Executive Director

Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit

Jane Ramsey
Executive Director
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

Robert J. Fishman

Executive Director

Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT)

Howard Gases, Executive Director

Bob St. Lifer, President

Toby Shylit-Mack, Chair of Community Relations Committee

Jewish Federation of Greater Monmouth County

Fran Katz, Chair

Josh Protas, Director

Jewish Community Relations Council

Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona

Dr. Carl Sheingold

Executive Vic President

Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Dara Silverman

Executive Director
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ)

Lori Leibowitz

Jews United for Justice

William E. Rapfogel

Executive Director/CEO

Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty

Metropolitan Jewish Council

Dr. Diane Steinman

Executive Director

New York Chapter, American Jewish Committee

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Center

Lawrence Greenwald, Chair, Task Force on Immigration Policy

Ronald Soloway, Managing Director, Government and External Relations

UJA-Federation of New York