Resolution Adopted by the CCAR

IMMIGRATION REFORM

Adopted by the 117th Annual Convention
of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
San Diego, CA
June, 2006

Background

In 1995, the Union for Reform Judaism (then UAHC) adopted a Resolution on Immigration, which read, in part:

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations has long supported a fair and generous immigration policy. Our people were and continue to be immigrants to this nation. We have benefited from its open doors, and suffered when they were closed. We struggled to adjust to a society that did not always welcome our arrival. We understand the problems faced by today's immigrants, as well as the difficulties attributable to the problem of illegal immigration.

Our tradition demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. We know that the alien and the foreigner should be treated with respect and welcomed, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Yet we also must support the territorial integrity of the United States and the governance of its laws. As new legislation is proposed to confront issues raised by legal and illegal immigration, we support those efforts that compassionately seek to regulate and to aid newcomers to this land but we oppose those that will unduly restrict immigration or burden the lives of legal immigrants.

Today, as eight to twelve million non-citizens are estimated to be living in the United States without legal status, immigration reform is again at the forefront of American political discourse, we continue to embrace the values expressed by our congregational Union in 1995.

At present, the American people and their representatives in Washington are debating issues of border security and the appropriate treatment of non-citizens living in the United States without legal documentation.

Some have called for draconian enforcement measures and the deportation of all non-citizens currently living in the United States without legal status. We have even heard calls to change the laws that grant citizenship rights to every child born within these borders. Other problematic proposals would categorize minor immigration infractions as aggravated felonies, a legal category which has specific ramifications for non-citizens; for instance, an undocumented immigrant who had included false information on a legal document would be deported without recourse, regardless of factors such as how long they have lived in the U.S. and their family circumstances. Also, the proposed use of local law enforcement to perform functions currently the responsibility of INS officials would undermine the ability of local police to provide neighborhood crime prevention, which requires access and trust from the local community.

President Bush and a bi-partisan group of legislators, on the other hand, have called for comprehensive reform, including stronger enforcement of immigration laws and beefed-up border security, together with a guest worker program and a process of earned legalization for those immigrants already living and working without the benefit of legal sanction. Unfortunately, the earned legalization proposal that passed the Senate this year is unnecessarily complex, onerous and restrictive, undermining its goal of bringing productive and valued residents out of the shadows.

Other issues have also been raised in the course of this debate, both encouraging and discouraging. In the 1995 Resolution on Immigration, the Union for Reform Judaism (then UAHC) made clear its support for maintaining legal immigration at least at its current level, particularly with respect to family reunification. Today, immediate family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents continue to wait years or even decades for family-based visas, and we have been encouraged by proposals to include measures that would reduce these backlogs as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

On the other hand, the issue of English language usage in the United States, particularly as opposed to the use of Spanish, has been raised. In 1997, both the CCAR and the URJ (then URJ) adopted resolutions opposing English-only legislation. Those resolutions spoke of the importance of English acquisition by all immigrants, while decrying the efforts of those who would stir up anti-immigrant hatred by demonizing the use of Spanish. In particular, the 1997 resolutions spoke to the importance of allowing the use of Spanish (and other languages) in governmental materials, as needed to protect individuals. civil liberties and equal rights under the law.

Lastly, even under some of the best immigration reform compromises we have seen gain traction in Congress this year, there has been a disconcerting lack of attention paid to potential effects on asylum seekers and refugees, some of whom have been victims of religious or political persecution in their home countries. Of particular concern have been deportation and detention policies, as well as adequate access to judicial review of asylum seekers' cases. The URJ's 2003 Resolution on Civil Liberties and National Security, as well as our historic commitment to human rights and international religious freedom, informs our interest in these issues.

While no one disputes the need for border controls and security, there is currently a debate taking place in the public arena between a harsh and punitive approach to illegal residents and one that would 'welcome the stranger in our midst.' This tension is currently evident in the stark differences between the enforcement-only immigration bill that has emerged from the U.S. House of Representatives, and that which has come from the U.S. Senate, which provides for a program of earned legalization.

Religious groups have been at the forefront of those taking strong positions in the current debate. Some have proposed actions similar to those addressed by a URJ (then UAHC) Resolution on Refugees and Sanctuary in 1985. We note, with particular admiration, the forthright position of the Roman Catholic Church in America, and specifically of Cardinal Thomas Mahoney of Los Angeles, who has raised the possibility of civil disobedience, should he be forced to choose between breaking the law and abiding immigration laws that violate his faith.

Therefore, Be It Resolved that the CCAR:

1. Affirms that the United States is a nation of laws, which must be enforced and respected in order to maintain a civil society. At the same time, we expect that -- especially in a Constitutional republic founded on principles of human dignity -- the laws in question must be both just and equitable.

2. Applauds and supports our nation's leaders who have called for comprehensive immigration reform, which would include not only better enforcement of our nation's laws, but also a guest worker program and a path to earned legalization.

3. Condemns the punitive enforcement-only approach to illegal residents that would result in deportations without access to a fair process that considers the circumstances of the individual or that co-opts the use of local law enforcement to meet federal INS obligations.

4. Commits itself to advocacy for an immigration law that will not only improve border security and immigration law enforcement, but will also provide for guest workers and for a just and fair path to citizenship for those now in the country without legal documentation.

5. Invites URJ and other arms of the Reform Movement -- as well as individual CCAR members, the communities they serve, the larger Jewish world and our partners in interfaith action -- to join us in this advocacy.

6. Opposes, in the strongest terms, any effort to restrict the citizenship rights of those born in this country.

7. Recommits itself to the principles expressed in the Union's Immigration Resolution of 1995, to the positions taken in the CCAR Resolution on English-only legislation in 1997; and to principles found in the Union's 1985 Resolution on Refugees and Sanctuary.