The lack cooperation on immigration reform by the majority of House Republicans should come as little surprise to anyone. As a nation, we are faced with a lack of meaningful action to assist the surge of immigrant children crossing our borders from other countries. President Obama has requested and been denied by the Republican Congress the $3.7 billion necessary to help alleviate this crisis. The House majority continues to play a game of political football with issues that impact millions of lives, and then criticizes our president for his use of executive powers to compensate for its inaction.
The Jewish community knows all too well the plight of being immigrants, having fled homelands to escape violence and oppression. We have not forgotten that Jewish immigrants once were not welcome on America’s shores, turned away in their greatest time of need. Torah says that “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…” (Leviticus 19: 33–34). The National Jewish Democratic Council’s Women’s Leadership Network respects the wisdom of our tradition.
Sadly, the House leadership’s words and inaction suggest that these pols do not. Several Republican spokespeople have been using a smear and scare campaign directed at these immigrant children. For example, Rep. Michele Bachmann called them “invaders.” In a letter to the Centers for Disease Control, Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia made unsubstantiated claims that the immigrant children were infected with the Ebola virus and would contaminate Americans. Arizona state Rep. Adam Kwasman tweeted, mistaking a school bus full of Arizona campers for the immigrant children, “Bus coming in. This is not compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law.”
Anti-immigrant protesters claim their movement is growing. Make Them Listen, Overpasses for America, and Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) announced a “National Day of Protesting Against Immigration Reform, Amnesty & Border Surge” back on July 18. The leaders of these groups, including Paul Arnold, William Gheen and Jeff Schwilk, have a history of disturbing rhetoric that borders on bigotry. The protesters are embracing a nationalist agenda that includes a “Not in my backyard” approach while forgetting that they, too, are Americans because their forebears came looking for a better life in America.
Since the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), debate, discussion, pleas and urging for a more fair and comprehensive national immigration reform law have gained a great deal of attention and consumed a great deal of time. Yet, House Republicans continue to resist taking productive action. A year ago, they rejected the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill. Now, faced with a serious humanitarian crisis, some House Republicans offer a quick and inadequate fix to a problem that requires a broader, compassionate and wiser view. They are attempting to force inadequate immigration bills through the legislative process before the August recess. Their bills sidestep a fair asylum process for immigrant Central American children fleeing violence and abuse, and they do not provide the president with adequate resources to address this growing crisis. If passed, the House Republican leadership would declare a victory while worsening the situation.
The children from Central America are fleeing beatings, rapes, murder – the worst kind of existence we can imagine for a child. While we cannot take ultimate responsibility for their parents’ desperation, neither can we as Americans and Jews deny these children due process and protections that we have historically granted to others.
America is the land of hope and opportunity, a safe haven for those who were persecuted and tempest-tossed. It is time we reaffirm that legacy.
Barbara Goldberg Goldman and Ann F. Lewis are co-chairs of NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network.