‘Glad he’s doing something’

President Obama speaks about his executive action on immigration policy at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Nov. 21. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
President Obama speaks about his executive action on immigration policy at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Nov. 21. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As partisans bicker with President Obama’s executive order on immigration, the American Jewish community is applauding an effort many Jews have long fought for.

Rabbi Michael Ramberg has been working with Philadelphia’s immigrant community since he was a rabbinical student.

“I’m glad he’s doing something,” Ramberg, who serves as immigration working group coordinator at Mishkan Shalom, a Reconstructionist congregation in the middle-class neighborhood of Roxborough in Philadelphia, said of the president’s nationally-televised remarks last week.

“Unfortunately, it’s not going to completely address the need that’s out there and, I think, fulfill our national values.”


Obama’s executive order, announced in a Nov. 20 speech from the White House’s Cross Hall, could allow about half of the nation’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.
“If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation,” Obama said

In the speech which aired on English and Spanish-language network and cable news channels.
The move allows many undocumented immigrants to work legally in the United States in addition to expanding access to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that allows those brought to the United States before the age of 16 to receive temporary work permits. It also ends the Secure Communities program that some said led to racial profiling.

Ramberg and other Mishkan Shalom congregation members recently accompanied an immigrant from Mexico as he faced deportation. They found the man a new lawyer and attended hearings on his status. The man, who had come to the United States as a teen and had children here, eventually received his visa.

“There’s still going to be a huge number of people who, in my way of looking at things, have needed to come here, didn’t really have a better option than coming here, and we need to honor the choices people make that are for the better future of their families, for their own safety, for their own dignity,” said Ramberg. “There’s going to be millions of people who’ve made those choices who are still subject to all the exploitation that being an undocumented here exposes them to.”

Along with the rabbi, several large Jewish organizations praised the White House.

“For decades, inspired by the biblical imperative to welcome the stranger and by our own lived experience as immigrants, the Reform movement has advocated for a more just immigration system,” read a statement released by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. “We have urged Congress and the president to work together to achieve comprehensive immigration reform which, among other provisions, addresses the issues of border security, family reunification, the needs of employers and protections for workers.

“Unfortunately, Congress has not succeeded at passing legislation to send to the president’s desk, despite the fact that Republicans and Democrats have long agreed that legislative action is the best way forward,” the statement continued.

The RAC statement followed closely recent remarks by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, who has criticized what he called Republican intransigence in failing to bring a bipartisan Senate bill to the floor of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives for a vote. A slew of Republican governors, among them Texas Gov. Rick Perry, were quick to denounce Obama for what they called an unconstitutional use of executive power that will undermine border
security and overwhelm the nation’s social services.

But at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, officials applauded the president’s move.

“President Obama’s new policies will prevent hardworking immigrants – some of whom have been in this country for decades – from being needlessly torn from their homes, jobs, communities and families,” the organization said in a statement. “HIAS also reaffirmed its position that the administration must prioritize finding a solution to help those who flee violence and come to this country seeking safety, and ensure that they are not needlessly detained or returned to persecution.”

The Jewish Labor Committee similarly endorsed the executive order.

“Aware that this is a pressing need directly affecting millions of people who work in the United States, their families and their communities, we therefore applaud President Obama’s efforts to take steps to ensure that families are not torn apart, that undocumented immigrants can emerge from the shadows, that those who have committed crimes are held to account for those crimes, and that the borders of the United States are made more secure,” it announced.

Heather Norris is a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times, WJW’s sister publication.

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