Rabbis from all 4 Major Streams of Judaism and Congressmen Call on Congress and Administration to Pass Immigration Reform

Posted on Thu, Apr 02, 2009 at 14:57 pm

Progress by Passover, the Jewish grassroots immigration campaign, delivers thousands of petition signatures to the White House calling for immigration reform and not raids

(Washington, DC)– Armed with thousands of petitions, leaders from all four streams of Judaism called today for just and compassionate immigration reform. Representatives of Progress by Passover, a grassroots national Jewish campaign for immigration reform, strongly urged the administration and Congress to overhaul the broken immigration system, rather than relying exclusively on raids and other enforcement tactics that separate parents from children, destroying the fabric of families.

They were joined by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Schakowsky stated that immigration reform cannot be done piecemeal and needs to be comprehensive, “and we are poised to do just that.” Nadler pledged that this country would not deport 12 million undocumented immigrants, saying “it’s inhumane and impractical…. Our laws in this country should reflect the goodness of the American people.”

The call for action came as Jews across the U.S. and around the world prepare for Passover, the Jewish holiday of freedom. This year, Passover coincides with the first 100 days of the new administration.

Since the initiation of Progress by Passover, activists have circulated petitions, calling for reform and not raids. Following the press conference, the Jewish leaders presented signatures to the White House from 3,600 individuals and leaders of Russian Jewish organizations representing some 204,000 Russian Jews.

The Jewish community is particularly close to the issue of immigration because of the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger,” an instruction repeated 36 times and more than any other commandment.

According to Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, the spiritual leader of Temple Rodef Shalom, a Reform congregation in Falls Church, VA, and one of five rabbis speaking at today’s press conference at the U.S. Capitol, “As Americans and as Jews, the values of our ancestors guide us as we consider the nearly 12 million undocumented men, women, and children living in the U.S. . . . As people of faith, as inheritors of an immigrant history, and – for many of us – as immigrants ourselves, we call for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.”

Jane Ramsey, Executive Director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) in Chicago and one of the organizers of Progress by Passover, along with Jewish Community Action (JCA )in Minneapolis and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), explained the Jewish community’s primary concern: “There are more than 12 million human faces of our broken immigration system. We stand in solidarity to urge the Obama administration and Congress to address the egregious issues that separate families, harm communities, and are contrary to our American values of justice and compassion.”

Rabbi Doug Heifetz of Oseh Shalom, a Reconstructionist congregation in Laurel, MD, warned against confusing “the terrorist with the stranger.”

One of the largest immigration raids ever to take place occurred nearly a year ago in Postville, IA at AgriProcessors, the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the U.S. During the raid, nearly 400 undocumented workers were arrested, separating mothers and fathers from their children for days. In the wake of the raid, language barriers and a shortage of properly trained legal staff deprived many of due process and left immigrant families and the town of Postville struggling.

According to Rabbi Morris Allen, spiritual leader of Beth Jacob Congregation, a Conservative synagogue serving Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and a leader in the Conservative movement’s work on the ethical production of kosher products: “Our liberation [from Egypt] did not lead us to self-pride or gloating or forgetfulness of our roots. Rather we internalized the message of never forgetting those on the margins – those new migrant workers, those new people in need of liberation.”

Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago, stated: “It is unconscionable that in this country families are torn apart this way.”

During the nearly 100 days of the new administration, the pro-immigration community has been gratified by remarks from the President. According to Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO of HIAS, the international migration agency of the Jewish community, “We are excited that we have seen progress in this arena, especially clear in the President’s comments urging congressional leaders to begin drafting immigration legislation. In addition, we are particularly pleased that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has delayed proposed workplace raids in order to ensure the government is targeting criminals and unscrupulous employers. This represents a sea change in the government’s approach in terms of raids.

“After Passover, through the next phase of this campaign – We Were Strangers, Too – we will continue to build momentum within the Jewish community until immigration reform passes.”

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, spiritual leader of Anshe Shalom B’nai Israel Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago, pledged: “As we stand exactly one week before the Jewish holiday of Passover, I commit myself as a Jew and as an American to never let irrational fear, bigotry, or prejudice lead to persecution and harassment of America’s immigrant population, as it did against the Israelite immigrants in ancient Egypt.”