Immigration is an age old topic that we as Jews have been considering from the beginnings of our history. Welcoming the stranger is not a new concept for us. We know that the Torah commands us “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 2:20). For Jews in particular, we understand and empathize with “welcome the stranger” as we are a people oft denied basic liberties throughout our history in the Diaspora.
Now fast-forward thousands of years. Many of you, like me, are the children of immigrants who came to this country as strangers. My parents fled a war-torn Europe that offered them no hope; that sought to take their lives because they were Jews. America for our parents was the Goldeneh Medina, a place of that offered them a new life with economic and religious opportunity. Growing up, we always heard the stories that helped us know that the United States was a beacon of light and hope to them, as it was to generations who arrived before them and as it must be in the future.
While the waves of European immigrants faced their own trials immigrating to this country, and far too many have been turned away, there is no doubt how blessed we are that the United States opened its borders to European refugees. And we remember those who fought the battle to open the doors of immigration which at times were closed, as well as our relatives and others turned away because of quotes and other restrictions
Today, the U.S. immigration system is broken. We turn away or kick out those who can help build our intellectual, economic and social infrastructure; we criminalize those who seek a better life and deprive them of basic liberties; we subject far too many to policies and enforcement that are unfair and demeaning. And, bottom line, we do not effectively prevent unauthorized immigration.
Our core values push us to fight for the right of the immigrant to be treated fairly and justly. The Reform Rabbinate has for years pushed for a comprehensive approach: improve border security and immigration law enforcement, provide for a just and fair path to citizenship for those in the country without legal documentation, provide basic protections for workers, and be inclusive of LGBT families.
These are not new concepts. For nearly 100 years, the CCAR has “urged our nations to keep the gates of the republic open” (CCAR Resolution, 1920). In 2006, the Reform Rabbinate again declared that the CCAR:
- Affirms that the United States is a nation of laws, to be enforced and respected to maintain a civil society. At the same time, we expect that — especially in a Constitutional republic founded on principles of human dignity — the laws must be both just and equitable.
- Applauds and supports our nation’s leaders who call for comprehensive immigration reform, which would include a guest worker program and a path to earned legalization.
- Commits itself to advocacy for an immigration law that improves border security, provides for guest workers, and for a “just and fair path to citizenship.”
The time is now for action – a unique opportunity in our society. This week the Reform Rabbinate is taking concrete steps forward. In the next few days and weeks, you will hear much more about Immigration Reform from the CCAR as we initiate Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, a joint project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the Justice and Peace Committee of the CCAR, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations. Reform Rabbis will receive support so to take action as individuals; involve community members (congregants and other constituents); engage and partner with the broader community; and, lead publicly and support the leadership of others.
The important work of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis offers the opportunity to unite the collective strength of the Reform Rabbinate – and the communities we lead — to unite on this truly important issue. The time has come press President Obama and Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform. I urge you to join in this important cause.