The Jewish Face of the Immigration Reform Struggle

Roy Naim Speaks Out on Overlooked Plight of Undocumented

By Yermi Brenner

Published July 28, 2013, issue of August 02, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

For 25 years, Roy Naim, an undocumented immigrant, led a secretive life. Having no identification papers, he could not drive, rent an apartment or be legally employed. Worst of all, he constantly feared being deported from his home and family. All he did was try to lie low, and somehow get by.

Naim is still undocumented. But in the past year he has been doing anything but lying low. Since June 2012, the young man, who spent his entire adult life in the shadow of society, has appeared on the cover of Time magazine, was featured in a documentary and was interviewed by the New York Daily News. He is constantly on Twitter and Facebook, promoting a new immigration bill that would secure his future as an American.

Naim, 29, an Israeli-born Orthodox Jew, has become the Jewish face of activism for immigration reform.

In many ways he’s an unusual figure among immigrant activists. Three-quarters of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants are Hispanic, along with 11% from Asia, according to a 2009 Pew Research Study. Less than 2% are from the Middle East.

The New York Legal Assistance Group, an organization that offers free legal services, has received 342 applications on behalf of Jewish undocumented immigrants. Many others apply through private attorneys.

“We know there are thousands of undocumented Jews presently residing in New York City,” said Yisroel Schulman, who founded NYLAG in 1990, adding that it works with a network of 150 Jewish, community-based organizations.

Clear data on the number of Jewish illegal immigrants in the United States is not available because most are doing what Naim did for 25 years: living in the shadows of society.

A photo Roy Naim published on his Facebook page on July 22, 2013.
A photo Roy Naim published on his Facebook page on July 22, 2013.

Naim’s “illegal” life began in 1988, when he was 4 years old. His family entered the United States on tourist visas and decided to stay. Growing up in Brooklyn, Naim studied in the Jewish schools that would accept him even though he was undocumented.

He could not visit his relatives back in Israel (“I’ve a hundred cousins I don’t even know,” he said). A class trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls was problematic. And one time, when he injured his foot playing soccer in summer camp, the hospital did not want to treat him because he lacked a Social Security number and didn’t qualify for health care benefits or have basic medical insurance.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.