Why Immigration Reform Makes the Jewish Community Stronger

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Why it Makes the Jewish Community Stronger

By Dan Elbaum, AJC Assistant Executive Director & Director of Regional Offices

A new advocacy group wrote the President of the United States about our nation’s restrictive immigration system.  The group  challenged our nation’s unfair policies and argued that a person "who comes here prepared to work and build up our resources, is deserving of a hearty welcome and should not be made the subject of adverse legislation.”

The letter was written in 1912 and the advocacy group was the American Jewish Committee.

One hundred years later, as our nation again debates the merits of immigration, a logical question can be asked – is this still a Jewish issue? 

There is no question that concern for and an obligation to immigrants is part of our identity as Jews.  After all, Exodus 23:9 reads “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Yet we need not look to biblical times to find a natural empathy with those seeking to come to this nation to create a better life. Indeed, it is ingrained in our identities.  Many of us are the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants. 

Nor are we immune to the security concerns that arise from a porous border.  We know it is a dangerous world out there with people who wish us harm.  We rely on our government and law enforcement to keep us safe. 

Yet for millions, our broken immigration system is part of everyday life.  They are forced to live in a failed system, with an endless maze of bureaucracy, years-long waiting lists, a dearth of rights, fear which makes them victims of opportunistic landlords and employers, and needless human suffering, including the deportation of immediate family members. 

But, the era of Ellis Island is over and don’t we as Jews have enough problems?  With the Iranian nuclear threat, global anti-Semitism on the rise, the Goldstone report, and a myriad of other issues, how much time should a Jewish organization spend on this issue?

At AJC, the answer is quite a lot.  Our founders recognized something over 100 years ago that remains fully relevant today – that the fate of Jews is inextricably linked with that of all people.  Our mission has led us to work for people of all backgrounds including legal work on behalf of Catholic school children in the 1920’s, anti-bias research that was cited in Brown vs. Board of Education in the 1950’s and Haiti relief today.

Yet it is not because of AJC’s rich history or biblical commandments that we take on this complex and seemingly controversial issue.  Nor as noble as it might be, is it in our desire to lend a helping hand to others.  Our reason is simple.  It is in our own self interest.  The best way to make the Jewish community stronger is to make America stronger.  And that is what immigration does. 

Lately, a bevy of reports have demonstrated just how much comprehensive immigration reform would strengthen our country.  According to a study by the Immigration Policy Center and the Center for American Progress, reform policies that include a pathway for undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and become citizens would boost the U.S. economy to the tune of $1.5 trillion over 10 years while adding billions of more dollars to our tax revenues. 

In addition, the Cato Institute found that the “legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households,” while economists at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report that immigration has a positive impact on the wages of native born workers.  Their analysis says that foreign born and native born workers complement each other in our economy since the workers have different skill sets.  More importantly, The EPI points out that highly specialized foreign born workers raise productivity, which in effect raises wages for everyone.

Throughout this nation's history, immigrants have enriched the fabric of American life.  This is the principle for which America has stood for nearly 250 years, it's what AJC has stood for for over 100 years and it's what AJC stands for today.