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Saperstein, Faith Leaders Stress Critical Need for Immigration Reform

“Our current system provides inadequate legal protections for immigrants and has become a system of justice delayed and denied.”

Contact: Kate Bigam or Jill Zimmerman
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 11, 2009 — Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today spoke at a press conference sponsored by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, where national faith and political leaders called on President Obama and the new Congress to prioritize immigration reform in 2009. Others speakers included Rev. Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, and U.S. Representatives Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Mike Honda (D-CA).

The event marked the launch of the coalition’s new national campaign to engage religious groups and congregations in support of immigration reform. The campaign's first effort will occur during February’s Congressional recess, as more than one hundred coordinated prayer vigils on immigration are held nationally.  

The full text of Rabbi Saperstein’s prepared remarks follow:

Fittingly, the portion of the Torah read by Jews across the globe this week deals with Jethro, Moses’ father-in–law, who warns Moses that he cannot alone be the judge of the disputes among his people but must instead appoint a sufficient number of judges so that the people have access to fair and speedy justice.  The words speak across the centuries as nations confront the obligation to ensure a fair and just system that addresses the legal rights and economic needs of immigrants. Our current system provides inadequate legal protections for immigrants and has become a system of justice delayed and denied.

We read in the Torah more frequently than any other commandment that we should love the stranger as ourselves, love our neighbor as ourselves.  Leviticus says, “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”   And who was the ger or the ger toshav, which we interpret as “the stranger”?  It was the resident alien, the person who came to Israel, lived in Israel, worked and participated in the life of Israel, but did not convert to Judaism. Is that not exactly the status of the immigrant in America today? There is no clearer mandate than the system set up by the Rabbis in Talmudic times in which the social benefits of society were available to the ger who lived in our midst as much as to the Jewish citizens.

As both Americans and Jews, we keep these principles in mind as we face the reality of the nearly twelve million undocumented men, women, and children currently living in the United States, and the hundreds of thousands attempting to come each year.

Today, we face the reality of an immigration system buckling under backlogs that leave families separated for decades when they should be together celebrating birthdays and holidays.  We face the reality of communities across the nation that rely on the contributions of immigrants who have lived as our neighbors for decades.  And we face the reality that in this world, we must be smart about our security and always mindful of the rule of law and our standards of justice.

That is why we must make comprehensive immigration reform a reality.

Comprehensive immigration reform must include a reduction in the crushing waiting times for family reunification, opportunities for the hardworking immigrants who are here to come out of the shadows, and border protections that are both effective and consistent with American humanitarian values.

This issue has a special resonance to the Jewish people. Throughout history, the Jewish community has been the quintessential immigrant community, often forced to flee from one land to another. Immigration policy has long been part of the fundamental question of the wellbeing and security of our community as we moved across the globe. And having struggled to adjust to societies that did not always welcome our arrival, we understand many of the challenges faced by today’s immigrants.

For over 350 years, our Jewish ancestors have immigrated to this country in search of a more hopeful life; a life free from religious persecution and economic hardship, a life where family members have the chance to be reunited and contribute to their adopted home. Today’s immigrants come here for the same reasons as our Jewish relatives. They come out of a love for their families, a passion and a desire to earn a better life, and a belief in the boundless opportunities of America. 

The time has come to put aside the policies and practices that do not work. Among these failed practices are workplace raids that do not address the problems with our immigration system, create due process concerns, leave families separated and traumatized, and are all too often carried out without respect for the dignity of men and women.  We must also end the building of impractical fences, and above all, end the mentality that dehumanizes those in our midst who are not really strangers after all.

As people of faith, as inheritors of an immigrant history, and—for many of us—as immigrants ourselves, we stand behind a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. And so today I urge our nation’s leaders to enact a program of generous, impartial and open immigration reform in 2009. We cannot wait any longer.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.



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