By Madeline Shepherd
National Council of Jewish Women
The ongoing debate over immigration reform tends to fall into two camps: the personal and the political. The personal is advocacy that stems from personal stories, including those about families separated for a decade or more, undocumented parents of citizen children who are seized in raids and deported, and the DREAMers who graduate high school at the top of their class but cannot pursue a college degree. And then there’s the political, made up of statistics about border crossings, employment visa shortages, and how much it would “cost” the US government and American taxpayer to reform today’s broken system of welcoming newcomers.
However, these camps agree on one thing: The immigration system we’ve relied on for so long is broken. Symptoms of this include 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the US, the lengthy wait time and backlog of visa applicants, and the number of highly skilled immigrants who graduate from American colleges and universities only to be turned out to work elsewhere. Americans living at the border shouldn’t feel threatened, and neither should migrant farmworkers who carry out vital jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.
Activists with the National Council of Jewish Women travelled to Washington, DC, in March to make their voices heard on this and other issues, and continue to do so in their communities at home. Their stories reflect both the personal and the political: one woman spoke about her own experience as an immigrant to the US from South Africa during the apartheid era; another shared how her local NCJW section got involved teaching English to immigrants in their community; still others recounted stories about their immigrant parents or grandparents. Each one reflected the underlying Jewish value of welcoming the stranger, a notion emphasized throughout the Torah, which reminds us that we were once strangers too.
At bottom, immigration reform can only be achieved through a synthesis of the personal and the political. We cannot achieve improved border regulation without establishing a path to citizenship. Immigration policy should not favor employment visas over family unity and disregard the fact that siblings, spouses, and children brought together in this country are economic contributors. Foreign-born graduates in high-demand fields should be able to stay and succeed in the US, but not to the detriment of efforts at improving the education and achievement of native students. The goal should be synchronizing the personal and political values in immigration reform, to achieve a system that reflects our Jewish values as well as our proud national principles of equality for all.
Madeline Shepherd is the Legislative Aide for the National Council of Jewish Women.