Jews Unite Behind Push for Immigration Reform

Ethics and Self-Interest Drive Unusual Nationwide Effort

Rabbi Mark Diamond peers through a corrugated-iron wall along the border with Mexico. The American Jewish Committee leader is part of a nearly unprecendented push by Jewish groups for immigration reform
Rabbi Mark Diamond peers through a corrugated-iron wall along the border with Mexico. The American Jewish Committee leader is part of a nearly unprecendented push by Jewish groups for immigration reform

By Rex Weiner

Published June 26, 2013.
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In L.A. — a city where Latinos are nearly half the population and whose new mayor, Eric Garcetti, boasts both Jewish and Mexican heritage — Salas’s group also works with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Jewish Labor Committee and Bend the Arc, a progressive national Jewish group, in pushing for immigrant labor protections.

“It’s not a one-way street,” Salas said. When it comes to Israel, the Latina activist suggested, the two groups’ relationship may help to modify anti-Israel viewpoints and foster dialogue rather than demonization. “It comes up,” Salas said, referring to the Middle East issue, “and there’s a perspective: ‘Isn’t this [U.S. treatment of Latinos] the same as in Israel with the Palestinians?’ It’s an opportunity to talk that through, to talk in the context of global immigrant policy, where people can be critical, but in good faith.”

Newly arrived Latinos tend to show higher rates of anti-Semitism, said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. She attributed the phenomenon, which shows up in surveys, to “exposure to some religious teachings.” But the next generation, she said, is no different in its relationship with Jews than the rest of Americans.

Asians are also active in coalitions with Jewish groups addressing immigration issues. “We appreciate the partnership with our Jewish allies,” said Betty Hung, policy director of the L.A.–based Asian Pacific American Legal Center. An estimated 3 million undocumented U.S. residents are Asian. California counts the nation’s largest Asian population without legal resident status — about 400,000. APALC has been an active participant in the ADL’s Asian Jewish Initiative, founded in 2006, which brings together civic, business, academic and faith leaders in the L.A. community for social mixers, awards dinners and educational programs.

For all this organizational solidarity, opponents of the reform legislation are not hard to find in the Jewish community.

One outspoken Jewish opponent is Stephen Steinlight, a former director of national affairs for AJC who criticizes the bill as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants and opposes any “pathway to citizenship” for them.

“My views changed,” he told the Forward, explaining his break with the AJC and his alliance with the conservative Center for Immigrations Studies. “AJC made no distinction between legal and illegal immigration,” he said.


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