Progress By Pesach Launches Call For Immediate Immigration Reform: Grassroots campaign taps pro-immigration sentiment in America

Posted on Thu, Jan 29, 2009 at 15:27 pm

(New York, NY)– For far too long, immigration issues have been seen as the “third rail” of legislative life in Washington, DC. As of today, HIAS is leading a long list of national and local Jewish organizations in making “not passing legislation the third rail of Washington politics,” according to Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community.

Placing immigration reform at the top of the new government’s agenda is the goal of Progress by Pesach, a new national grassroots campaign within the Jewish community, launched today.

“It’s a new day in Washington and we in the Jewish community are tremendously energized by the potential for real immigration reform in the coming months,” said Aronoff. “HIAS – and our extensive list of national and local partners – are looking for Progress by Pesach – progress toward making real headway with Congress and the new administration in choosing sensible and just immigration reform. It is time for our lawmakers to recognize the broad and destructive policy failure of exclusively relying on raids and enforcement to control immigration. It is time for them to join with us in the Jewish community – and with all people of good conscience – to ensure even-handed treatment of undocumented immigrants.“

Endorsements for Progress by Pesach are in formation and include the following national organizations: the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), American Jewish Committee (AJC), Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), the Rabbinical Assembly, and the Union for Reform Judaism. Locally, Progress by Pesach is so far endorsed by Jewish Community Action (St. Paul, MN), Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (Chicago, IL), the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern Arizona (Tucson, AZ), Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (New York, NY), Jews United for Justice (Washington, DC), MIKLAT! A Jewish Response to Displacement (Milwaukee, WI), and Progressive Jewish Alliance (Los Angeles, CA).

In a telephonic press conference that announced this effort today, Rabbi Steve Gutow, President & CEO of the JCPA, stated that Jewish law developed a code of behavior toward “the ger,” stranger, which is “incumbent on us to follow today.” He explained that in Biblical Israel the ger was not a diplomat or emissary, but a poor, rural inhabitant of the area, very similar to today’s undocumented immigrant.

“The Jewish religion incorporates an insistence on social justice, typified by how we treat the stranger. To make raids on these people – raiding their homes and separating families – is not part of the love we are commanded to show in treating them. It is cruelty,” he said.

For a number of years, the federal government has used immigration raids as a deterrent to illegal immigration rather than reforming immigration policy and legislation. Two organizers of Progress by Pesach – Jewish Community Action (JCA) of Minneapolis and Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) of Chicago – have had extensive contact with those who have been victims of the raids strategy.

“Immigration raids devastate families and communities; they do not make our country safer, and they do not make our economy stronger,” said Jane Ramsey, executive director of JCUA. “A key message for this campaign is to ask the President to find some immediate relief for families affected by the egregious lack of due process,” she said, citing examples of undocumented immigrants unable to get adequate legal representation. “We are hopeful that the new president, who understands human rights issues, will heed this call.”

In addition to looking for an executive action to call a halt to raids that split families, the group is calling on Congress to enhance labor-law enforcement, address the problem of undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship, eliminate lengthy back logs for family-based immigration, establish just and effective immigration enforcement on border and in interior, reform legal immigration to link available visas with available jobs, and provide for better integration of newcomers.

Progress by Pesach will employ a number of methods to mobilize Jewish communities across the country, including collecting signature for petitions, holding community-based events and educational workshops, organizing divrei Torah in synagogues, planning community-wide prayer vigils for President’s Day weekend, and hosting programs to encourage activism.

“A really important element of this campaign will be our ability to mobilize the community and greatly increase the number of phone calls and letters going to our Congressmen so that they can see where the Jewish community stands,” explained Vic Rosenthal, executive director of JCA.

According to Aronoff, “The last election sent a clear message on the role of immigrants – with a number of pro-immigration candidates winning, and slim margins being swung by immigrant voters. Progress by Pesach counteracts the anti-immigrant movement that has stymied any progress on this subject for years.”