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Jewish Immigration Activists Look Out for Jewish Interests. So What?

From: Gideon Aronoff To: John Derbyshire Subject: The Exodus Impulse and the Sinai Impulse John, Allow me to correct your misconception (shared by several commenters) that I support illegal immigration in any way. I do not. I am in favor … Read More

By / October 15, 2007

From: Gideon Aronoff To: John Derbyshire Subject: The Exodus Impulse and the Sinai Impulse

John,

Allow me to correct your misconception (shared by several commenters) that I support illegal immigration in any way. I do not. I am in favor of a system that includes security measures to keep dangerous people out while offering opportunities to become part of our country to those who came here to work and support their families, but entered or stayed illegally.

They need to be made to do the right thing – and that includes paying fines, getting to the back of the line, learning English, and so on – but we have to create a realistic “line” rather than this mishmash of a system that we currently have. Let’s make it work and end illegal immigration. I’m still optimistic enough to believe that we as a country can do just that.

Now, as I wrap up this exchange about where Jews should stand on immigration, I'll focus on the key points that have divided us:

I believe that Jews are and should be parochial and universal at the same time. This understanding is well articulated by Rabbi Sidney Schwartz in his book Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World when he writes:

“The Jewish tradition’s universal teachings about responsibility toward all human beings and to the entire world continue to bring us back to the needed equilibrium between self-interest – the Exodus impulse – and the interests of humanity – the Sinai impulse. Even when, or perhaps especially when, the Jewish world tends toward the parochial, there are voices in our midst that call us back to our prophetic legacy to be agents for the repair of the entire world.”

My awareness of this interplay between Judaism’s Exodus and Sinai impulses frames my reading of Kevin MacDonald—even if it isn’t the framework from which MacDonald writes. I don’t think Jews need to be ashamed of watching out for our own parochial interests—the Exodus impulse.

I am proud of Jewish contributions to fighting the immigration restrictions that MacDonald describes. And I am particularly proud that in taking steps to benefit our community, we also were able to express the universal value of human dignity—our Sinai imperative—through our opposition to nationality-based quotas that were harmful to so many people and to our country as well. Pascal aside, I think that from a Jewish perspective we can and must be fully particularist and fully universal at the same time.

Though it is true that one can find any number of polls on the Internet to support any claim, I put most stock in established organizations such as Zogby, CBS-New York Times, and USA-Today. Their results show that the country is overwhelmingly supportive of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

Just a few weeks ago ABC News published a poll saying that 58 percent of Americans are in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay if they paid fines and met other requirements. This summer a CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll also found that most people did indeed favor comprehensive immigration reform. More than half of the people polled by NBC News-Wall Street Journal said they’d be disappointed if Congress did not pass immigration reform legislation. I could go on. I stick with my assertion that the majority are on our side. So it is naturally frustrating to have the issue taken off the table in Congress because the opposition minority was more successful at emailing, calling and faxing.

As for the economic arguments, of course there are economic pluses and minuses to immigration. But I believe the minuses can be mitigated by biting the bullet and creating a new system where legality and control are achieved through a federal comprehensive plan that includes legalization, enforcement, future legal flows, and integration.

Additionally, what I take away from Rabbi Sacks is not that the economy is irrelevant —it is crucial and he has written eloquently about both the challenges of a global economy and the virtues of the market. But we shouldn’t fetishize economic or other forms of power over individual freedom and dignity. My initial statement of Jewish immigration needs in my first e-mail was, in my mind, an example of the combined Sinai and Exodus imperatives, and placed economics in the full context of security, culture, practical necessity, and so on.

Next, let me correct the point on diversity. I wasn’t disagreeing that diversity is a worthy goal, only that immigration and integration are different areas of public policy and both deserve attention. Moreover, I was arguing that policies to promote diversity in immigration are, in my view, much better served by my proposals and that a renewed focus on integration—or assimilation—of newcomers will allow us to get the benefits from diversity while incorporating this diverse population into our common national objectives.

Regarding the comments about deportation—there has to be a better way forward for our country than to deport mothers, fathers, husbands and wives of families who are not here legally, and force the U.S. citizen and legal immigrant members of the families—often children—to make the inhumane and heartbreaking choice to separate from their loved ones or their country (the U.S.A). Separating families with mixed status, or making them choose to leave behind everything they’ve built for themselves over the years, is certainly legally permissible, but is not the way we should be treating millions of people.

I agree that we should always be seeking ways to improve our refugee system—we should work to improve all aspects of our government and our society. But to essentially shut down refugee protection is an extreme and callous response, particularly when based on misapplying the European example. U.S. and European immigration and integration policies are markedly different.

Bruce Bawer, who strives in his 2006 book While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within to sound the alarm about the impact of failed policies in Europe still concludes:

“America views its immigrants as potential assets, Americans in the making, the next wave of bearers of the American dream; Europe views them as needy cases, wards of the state. America treats them as individuals, who, though welcome to retain aspects of their cultures of origin, are expected to think of themselves as free, self-determining Americans; Europe treats them as members of an ethnic and religious group and is less interested in their self-realization as individuals than in the preservation, in Europe, of their group’s customs.”

Finally, on the Senate bill: I don’t have contempt for the American people. I recognize the stresses that immigration can cause, and believe that the restrictionist camp includes people motivated by these real concerns as well as others who are motivated by racial and ethnic prejudice. When we in the immigrant rights camp paint our opponents with broad strokes and fail to make distinctions, we are guilty of the same sins of which we often, accurately, accuse our opponents.

However, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which monitors and reports on the activities of far-right extremists, has issued a valuable report in Extremists Declare ‘Open Season’ on Immigrants that notes that extremists continue to focus their energies on Hispanic hate-mongering through racist rhetoric, crude stereotypes, and threats of using violence to intimidate illegal immigrants.

“As we have gotten deeper into the discussion on immigration, the white supremacist movement has reinvigorated itself and closed ranks around the cause of fighting immigration and turning America into a nation for ‘Whites only,’” says Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “The immigration debate has provided the perfect storm for America’s white supremacist fringe to recruit, organize and sow the seeds of racial discord and hate.” Not all restrictionists hold these views, but it is a warning that we need to take seriously.

I share your opinion that the Senate bill was flawed. That's why it was opposed not just by immigration restrictionists but also by many hard-core advocates of immigrant rights. Ultimately it was killed by too much opposition from immigration restrictionist forces and too little support from the immigrant rights community. As a pragmatist, I concluded that it was better to work from this flawed model than to destroy it. I still believe that it could have been improved and that it was better than what we now have.

Unfortunately, what we now have is continued illegality and the exploitation of workers who are in this vulnerable status; more deaths of migrants in the desert; an ever coarsening political debate; an abdication of federal leadership on a major national issue; raids that are separating families and disrupting communities; and a hodgepodge of local responses that can cause trauma for immigrant families but cannot solve our immigration problems, or take the place of the wise and just legal immigration system that our country desperately needs.

We—and here I speak with my Jewish, American and American Jewish identities— can definitely do better. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get back to work.

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