Congress did what it does best when it ended the brief government shutdown by postponing action on immigration issues for almost three more weeks.
Jewish and other faith leaders have largely united behind the so-called dreamers, those who were illegally brought to this country as children and often know no life except as Americans.
The highest-profile Jewish-led demonstration was organized by Bend the Arc, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League at the Russell Senate Office Building. Held Wednesday, Jan. 17, two days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the protest was a classic act of civil disobedience: a knowingly illegal, nonviolent statement by more than 100 people that a few hours in police custody and a fine were a small price to pay compared with deportation for dreamers.
At least two Jewish Atlantans, Leah Fuhr and Abbie Fuksman, were part of that Capitol Hill protest, and they deserve praise for standing up for Jewish principles of justice, equality and world improvement.
They put into practice the convictions expressed in letters to lawmakers from such national organizations as American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, B’nai B’rith, Hadassah, HIAS, the National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Women International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, New Israel Fund, and the rabbinical associations of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements.
Within Georgia, an interfaith letter sent to Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, urging them to support pro-dreamer legislation, had the support of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta, Congregation Or Hadash, Congregation B’nai Torah, Temple Sinai and Temple Emanu-El.
That’s a lot of Jewish firepower, albeit none from the Orthodox movements, and we’re confident many other Jewish leaders share the belief that their religious values and their humanity compel support for people and families who are American in all ways except the letter of the law.
We don’t disagree that our Jewish values, our immigrant experience and our basic empathy for fellow humans demand action on behalf of the dreamers. But we can’t ignore that practical problems complicate any solution.
As many as 800,000 people were protected under the discontinued Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which should never have been instituted by executive order instead of legislation, but the total number of immigrants who came to this country illegally before age 18 is estimated at 3.6 million. Any legal status for them has implications for several times as many relatives who want to be Americans, as well as other would-be immigrants who have followed the rules and now face the possibility of being bumped aside by those who didn’t.
Finally, addressing the needs of the current dreamers without improved border security and a comprehensive approach to a range of necessary reforms to our patchwork immigration policy only sets us up to face further waves of dreamers.
We want the dreamers to stay and be secure in their status as Americans. But it’s a fantasy to think legislation can or should be enacted for them while ignoring other immigration issues. Our dream is that Congress, in an election year, will make the tough choices and compromises in less than three weeks that it has avoided for at least three decades.