HIAS: America needs sound policy, not politicking, to fix immigration system

Posted on Fri, Apr 13, 2007 at 11:23 am

(Washington, D.C.)– Responding to the Bush administration’s recent immigration proposal, HIAS – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – expressed disappointment that the administration has backed away from its 2006 plan and instead has offered a proposal that undermines the possibility of workable, fair and humane immigration reform.

“While we are encouraged by President Bush’s continued interest in getting a bill done this year, as evidenced by his speech earlier this week in Yuma, Ariz., the White House proposal is not consistent with principles the president has urged in the past,” says Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS. “The proposal reduces or eliminates entire visa categories for close family members, favors wealthy and well-educated immigrants, includes unrealistic enforcement triggers, and imposes excessive fees and fines that make it virtually impossible for undocumented immigrants to participate in an earned legalization program.”

HIAS calls on Congress and the administration to set politics aside and come up with a workable, sensible, and humane immigration reform plan that lives up to America’s tradition as a welcoming nation, says Aronoff.

“The White House proposal is a step in the wrong direction, not just for immigrants, but for America,” he says. “Representatives Flake and Gutierrez took a real step toward achieving sensible reform by introducing the STRIVE Act.”

The STRIVE Act of 2007, a bipartisan bill introduced by Representatives Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Il.), combines the promise of legal status for people who have a record of contributing to the nation’s economy and communities, smarter and more strategic federal immigration law enforcement, and a visa system that employers can use to hire new workers with labor rights while at the same time protecting the rights of native-born workers. “What doesn’t make sense is why the White House followed on its heels with a proposal that would separate families and essentially codify a second-class society of workers in the U.S.,” says Aronoff.

The White House proposal, which was circulated only a week after introduction of the House bill, which is considered more reasonable by advocates, “lacks a real path to citizenship that will bring people out of the shadows and enable workers that our economy desperately needs to come to this country in the future, includes overly harsh measures meant to punish immigrants, and drastically scales back our family immigration system by eliminating entire family visa categories,” says Lisa Shuger, director of HIAS’ Washington office. “The American public has demanded real solutions, but based on this proposal, it appears the Administration is more concerned with politics than sound policy.”

“Of course we are pleased that the White House is engaged in the immigration reform debate, but we also remind the administration that, in doing so, they must not compromise our values and the importance of family,” says Aronoff. “The Jewish community knows all too well the consequences of a restrictive family immigration system.” The recently discovered correspondence from Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, which portrays his desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to flee Nazi-occupied Holland and join family in the United States, depicts just one of the thousands of Jewish families who were unable to escape Nazi persecution and reunite with family in America due to restrictive immigration policies.

Adds Shuger, “In many respects, today’s newcomers, whether economic migrants, refugees, or individuals seeking to be reunited with their families, face many of the same challenges that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents faced years ago. How we choose to respond to today’s newcomers says a lot about who we are as individuals, as a community, and as a country.”

Recently, more than 30 prominent leaders in the American Jewish community sent a letter to congressional leaders urging passage of fair and workable immigration reform. Leaders of HIAS, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Jewish Council for Public Affairs and United Jewish Communities, among others, spoke out about the need to reform our immigration system in a way that makes the United States stronger and safer. As the letter points out, it is through the teachings of our religious and ethical traditions and core American values that we should look for guidance on immigration reform.

HIAS, the American Jewish community’s international migration agency, will continue to advocate for final passage of a legislative package that includes an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who fulfill reasonable criteria, effective and humane border enforcement, wider legal channels for immigrants to work in the U.S. with their rights fully protected, and enhancements to the family-based immigration system so that families are not unduly separated from their loved ones.