The Dream Act and American Jews

As American Jews, we have a special responsibility to support efforts to give people a decent chance to enjoy what we now do.

By DAVID COHEN
June 24, 2012 21:08
2 minute read.
Undocumented students graduate at UCLA

Undocumented students graduate at UCLA 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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President Barack Obama’s policy direction with regard to young illegal immigrants moved me deeply. I watched the president’s statement on TV and heard the interviews with joyous Latina and Latino young people talking about their dreams having a chance to come true. They talked about working to have their parents become legal, too. In every respect they reflected the president’s description of them: “They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” Tears welled up in my eyes.

On Saturday as I listened to the Torah portion being chanted, I read there: “One law and one ordinance both for you and for the stranger that live with you.” This equal justice declaration applies to civil law. I have read it and heard it many times. I know this thought appears in the Torah 36 times, making it emphatic for the Jewish people.

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I feel proud to be a Jew and an American.

I thought of my mother who was sent back from Ellis Island after the restrictive immigration quota laws were enacted in 1921 and 1924. She made it to Ellis Island, having survived the Russian Revolution and the Ukraine counter-revolution. She hid in cellars, her mother died there, and a bullet went through my mother’s dress fortunately missing all parts of her body. When she got to Ellis Island she was further traumatized by the immigration officials applying the quotas to her because of where she was born. She was still a teenager. There she was separated from her father.

My father, not American-born, entered the US with my mother from Canada. Neither of them had the requisite papers to prove their legality. I was born in America 75 years ago. I recall the struggles my parents went through to be citizens. My mother lived in constant fear though we were never investigated or threatened. President Obama’s statement applied to them and they would have loved it.

As American Jews, as a people accepted and welcomed by our fellow Americans, we have a special responsibility to support efforts to give people a decent chance to enjoy what we now do: safety, personal security, economic opportunity, a chance to participate and contribute to our community.

The Obama policy masterfully uses the long-established legal practice of prosecutorial discretion, as Senator Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) aptly put it, to enable young illegal immigrants, who are in the military or in school, to come out of the shadows, and into the sunlight, and work legally. Secretary Napolitano, in conversations with me and others, demonstrates that she and her team have thought through the plan and, most importantly, its implementation. That makes the hope real for the Dreamers helped by this change in policy.

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It will make me work even harder for the president’s re-election. The Dream policy must be reaffirmed.

The writer has been a leader in civil rights, anti-poverty, congressional reform and arms control issues since the early 1960s. He has worked with Israeli Jewish American social justice groups for over three decades.

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