Immigration Takes Center Stage

August 8, 2016Adam Waters

Over the past several months, immigration has once again become a major topic of discussion in the public square and in Congress. Recognizing that something must be done to address the almost 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, as well as the large number of Central American and Syrian refugees seeking resettlement here, activists and lawmakers have called for a variety of new policy measures. As with so many other hot political issues, however, there is tremendous disagreement about how to proceed on immigration reform.

In July, the Senate considered two immigration bills. The Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100) would cut the flow of certain federal funds to cities and localities that do not coordinate their law enforcement efforts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that oversees immigration enforcement. As I have written about before, defenders of sanctuary city policies argue that they are vital to building community trust. Along those lines, the URJ has spoken out against measures that require local law enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration law, noting that such measures undermine “their ability to work cooperatively with the immigrant community…” S. 3100 failed to attain the 60 votes required for cloture, thereby preventing the bill from moving forward.

The Senate also held a cloture vote on the Stop Illegal Reentry Act (S. 2193). This bill is also known as “Kate’s Law” in memory of Kathryn Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco last summer. S. 2193 would put in place new mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain individuals who illegally reenter the United States after being deported. Supporters of “Kate’s Law” argue that it is necessary to stop the influx of undocumented immigrants, particularly those with criminal histories. Detractors, on the other hand, note that the provisions contradict current bipartisan efforts to reduce mandatory minimums at the federal level and could cost as much as $3.1 billion in additional spending over 10 years. S. 2193 also failed to pass cloture by a vote of 42-55.

While bills to toughen immigration enforcement like S. 3100 and S. 2193 have received the majority of attention, several pieces of legislation have also been introduced recently to bolster our ability to welcome immigrants and refugees. One of the most significant is the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act (S. 2540/H.R. 4646), which would ensure that unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups seeking asylum in the United States are given adequate legal counsel and full due process rights. As Reform Jews, we are compelled to speak in support of legislation like the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act in order to comply with the Torah’s commandment to love and welcome the stranger. Leviticus tells us: “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. 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” (19:33-34). Join the Reform Movement in calling on Congress to pass the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act.

Ultimately, our broken immigration system can only be fixed through a comprehensive immigration reform package that addresses border enforcement, family reunification, visa backlogs and other vital elements. In a hopeful turn of events, there has been increased discussion about moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform in the next congress. If and when that happens, the Reform Movement will stand alongside other faith denominations as we lift our voices for a just and humane immigration system. 

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