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.
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Naim was not always this confident. The process of coming out about his legal status has had a direct effect on his personality, according to Nathan Samuels, a Staten Island based attorney who has been Naim’s friend since their yeshiva days together.

“By nature he is more of an introvert, an inward person,” said Samuels. “But he has become more of an extrovert through this process.”

Samuels, 30, told the Forward that his friend’s activism has caused him to rethink the whole immigration issue.

“Personally, from my political vantage point, I lean towards the conservative side. I was never for amnesty,” said Samuels, who does not know any undocumented people other than Naim. “But when you know somebody in that situation, it definitely gives you food for thought.”

In June 2012, President Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a temporary act protecting from deportation many undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. Naim said his application for DACA is on hold because of technical problems that he hopes to solve soon.

Naim believes that he Republican-controlled House of Representatives will approve a bill that is similar to the one passed with a strong majority by the Democratic-controlled Senate on June 26, one that includes a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. House Republicans are far from sold on the Senate’s approach, and so far House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has refused to bring immigration reform to a debate or a vote.

At least for now, Naim’s expectations appear to be wishful thinking.

“The House has to ask themselves two questions,” Naim said. “What type of country do we want to be known as, and are we willing to live with the concept of having second-class people in America?”

In the meantime, Naim says he is speaking out for the Jewish undocumented population, as well as for all immigrants. Even within the Jewish community, he says people tend to hide their illegal status and are forced to lead lives crippled by social and professional limitations.

“I don’t know any other Jewish undocumented people who are sharing their story like me,” Naim said. “And part of why I want to do this interview is to reach out and say: Whoever you are and wherever you are, know there’s somebody like you, that you are not alone.”

A day after the Time magazine issue was published, Naim received a message on Facebook from a Jewish teenager whom he had not known. It read: “Thank you. You gave me hope.”

Contact Yermi Brenner at Brenner@forward.com or @yermibrenner


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