There are good reasons why Jewish groups like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and the American Jewish Committee have been active advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. More than most, the Jewish community understands America’s role as a safe haven and land of opportunity for those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
And more than most, we understand the dangers of scapegoating immigrants for political gain, sadly a long American political tradition and one of the reasons serious, fair-minded immigration reform has been so difficult to pass in recent years.
A new immigration reform measure was introduced in the House of Representatives just before the holiday recess. It is critically important that Congress move swiftly on this issue — and not just because the American immigration system is badly broken.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act, introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), would beef up border security, increase support for family reunification and change employment verification procedures, among other provisions.
Also included is an “earned legalization program” for some of those who are in this country illegally.
That represents an important start. Family reunification must be a key goal of the legal immigration system. Immigration bottlenecks need to be eliminated. And Jewish groups have long argued that truly significant reform must include a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants — although a Zogby poll this week suggested that the Jewish rank and file may not feel as strongly on the issue (see page 26).
Don’t get us wrong; illegal immigration is a problem that needs to be addressed. And in this age of global terrorism, border security must be a priority. We ignore those realities at our own peril.
But scapegoating illegal immigrants as the carriers of crime and disease who steal American jobs and endanger our communities has become a too-common feature on our political landscape, promoted by talk-show hosts who exploit legitimate fears, and too often legitimized by mainstream politicians who should know better.
Immigration strengthens America — a fact our own community, built on a foundation laid by our immigrant parents and grandparents, so dramatically demonstrated. Finding ways to maintain that tradition in a very different, post-9/11 environment is critical to preserving the pluralism and tolerance that have been so good to American Jews and to countless other minority communities.
Serious, comprehensive and balanced immigration reform is long overdue; we hope this is the year a reluctant Congress will finally act intelligently and responsibly.