Jewish groups unite to oppose Arizona immigration law

Jewish groups are slamming Arizona’s stringent new immigration-enforcement law and saying they hope outrage over the measure will reignite efforts to address comprehensive immigration reform on the national level.

“I believe that it has absolutely ignited a movement across this country for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the daughter of Jewish immigrants, who is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to normalize their status. “You see people pouring out of their homes and into the streets and halls of government rejecting this notion of allowing our country to become a police state.”

Amaria Lopez of Phoenix protests at the Arizona Capitol on April 25. photo/ap/ross d. franklin

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act into law last week, though the measure won’t go into effect for 90 days. It requires that police check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant, a tactic civil liberties groups say effectively mandates racial profiling.

Proponents of the law say the tough measures are necessary — given the federal government’s failure to act — to rescue the state from a flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico who they say sap taxpayer-funded programs and, in some cases, commit violent crimes. They also note that the Republican governor has issued an executive order establishing a training program on how to avoid racial profiling when implementing the new rules.

On April 26, following a weekend of protests, vandals smeared refried beans in the shape of swastikas on the windows of the Arizona State Capitol buildings, the Associated Press reported. More protests were being planned, including a vigil organized by the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

The new law has been criticized by an array of Jewish groups, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Simon Wiesenthal Center, National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy umbrella group composed of the synagogue movements, several national groups and local Jewish communities across North America.

Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said he is working with other Jewish organizations to draft a broad statement condemning the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive reform.

“Are most of the Latinos who suffer from this law Jewish? The answer is no, but we look at this through the oral commandment of ‘welcome the stranger,’ ” Aronoff said. “We are all Americans, we are all our brothers’ keepers.”

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Jewish Democrat, referred to the immigration bill as one that “nationally embarrasses Arizona” in an op-ed piece April 24 in the Washington Post.

Eight Reform rabbis in Arizona wrote a letter to Brewer urging the governor to veto the measure, calling it “an affront to American values of justice and our historic status as a nation of immigrants.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement that “allowing an individual’s accent or skin color to precipitate an investigation into his or her legal status is anathema to American values of justice and our historic status as a nation of immigrants. [It] is also likely to endanger our communities by discouraging immigrants from cooperating with law enforcement on issues of national security.”

Along similar lines, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center issued a statement saying that “this law makes no sense — it guarantees and stigmatizes people of color as second-class citizens and exposes them to intimidation and the use of racial profiling as a weapon of bias.”