Los Angeles — Rabbi Mark Diamond stood on the border with Mexico on a brisk February day, alongside the Rev. Alexei Smith of the Catholic Archdiocese, the Rev. Mary Glasspool of the Episcopal Diocese and a host of clergy from Presbyterian, Methodist and United Church of Christ ministries.
All of them peered through the corrugated steel wall at the rough miles between countries. The scene evoked thoughts of the old adage Mexicans invoke about their country: “So far from God, so close to the United States!”
Diamond, the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles director, who arranged the clerics’ 25-member fact-finding mission, is hoping to bridge a comparable distance — between a life of promise and a life of uncertainty — for millions of noncitizens in the United States.
Diamond’s key role in organizing this gathering was no isolated communal act. After months of delay, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on the most comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 27 years. And Jewish groups across the country are acting together in a way characteristic of the community on few issues besides Israel.
“It’s about the right thing to do,” said Robert Gittelson, co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and a Republican. In op-ed pieces and interviews, Gittelson, a retired Jewish businessman from California’s San Fernando Valley, has called certain GOP strategies on immigration reform “un-biblical” and “cruel.”
Those leading an active push for the bill, which will offer a path to citizenship for some of the nation’s 11 million undocumented aliens, include the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Bend the Arc and the National Council of Jewish Women.
The Senate vote — and the even harder struggle that will follow in the Republican-controlled House — represents the fulfillment of a sustained campaign by the Jewish community for immigration reform, which has built momentum over the past decade.
Whether or not the necessary votes are mustered from both houses to land a historic immigration law reform bill on President Obama’s desk, Jewish outreach, particularly in the Southwest — home to the largest share of America’s emerging and increasingly powerful ethnic and interfaith populations — promises to be politically and socially influential beyond the issue it addresses.