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California, with 2.6 million undocumented residents, is a front line in the battle for this reform. And a Jewish establishment ever mindful of its need to operate through alliances and coalitions to advance its own interests is not blind to the implications of the issue in a country whose demography is shifting rapidly. In addition to working with Latino groups, the ADL’s Southwest regional office has forged alliances with Asian groups representing undocumented Koreans, Chinese, Filipino and other Asian Pacific immigrants in the Southland.
“It’s the ethical thing to do,” said HIAS president and CEO Mark Hetfield, of the community’s immigration reform activism. But he quickly added, “It’s in our strategic interest.”
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, reflects the deepening relationship that Jewish groups are developing through their visibility on the immigration issue.
“I really admire the way that the Jewish community has gone deep in support of immigration reform,” Salas told the Forward. A 15-year veteran of immigration rights activism, Salas fondly recalled a 2006 mass mobilization, when a procession through L.A. streets began with a cantor blowing a shofar and singing “Let my people stay!”
Salas counted efforts by Jewish organizations as second only to Catholic groups in their impact. A key factor, she said, is that HIAS and the AJC, founded at the height of Jewish immigration more than a century ago, have a built-up institutional expertise at integrating new arrivals into American society, with programs, legal resources and family services already in place — but now serving Spanish speakers instead of Yiddish.
The Ford Foundation recently awarded a two-year $1 million grant to the AJC’s Bridging America Project, which is planning “joint advocacy workshops in Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C.; a ‘national conversation’ among Latino and Jewish leaders about issues of mutual concern, and conferences in Houston, Miami and New Jersey on the economic benefits of immigration, among other activities.
Salas has also worked closely with the ADL, which keeps a keen eye on extremist groups that have set up vigilante patrols on the border between the United States and Mexico. An ADL study reported that “violent incidents against illegal immigrants have been brutal and are occurring with greater regularity, further intensifying the atmosphere of fear and suspicion on both sides of the border.” The ADL has also tracked a rise in hate crimes, discrimination cases and bigotry against Latinos.