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Virtual Talmud

Where should we stand on immigration reform?

If not for the closed-door policies and quotas held by America and other countries barring Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe, the Holocaust would not have claimed its millions of victims. As Jews, we understand that part of our job is to protect the weak and persecuted, which sometimes means providing save haven and refuge. That is why Israel has a history of welcoming innocent refugees, whether the Cambodian boat people, the Christian Lebanese, or such breakaway sects from Islam as the Bahai and Ahmayeds, all of whom have found safety from persecution within Israel’s borders.

Being a safe haven does not preclude being concerned about security. Indeed, successful reform should not only include ways to tighten the process for vetting immigrants to make sure that potential terrorists do not enter the country but should also create the conditions that would close down our porous borders through fair and reasonable visiting worker and political refugee options.

However, America’s history of xenophobia ill serves us here. It is more than the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, because one person’s immigrant is another person’s stranger.

As Jews, we know what it is like to be strangers. Our whole religion is built upon this essential ethical leitmotif: Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt. We are to make sure the stranger is treated fairly, because we know what it is like not to be. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, which is why more synagogues should be joining other faith-based organizations to offer food and other aid to the illegal immigrants we see suffering within our midst.

But there is another issue of justice here as well: the fact that agriculture, travel, and other significant businesses build their profits on substandard salaries that could not reasonably support America’s working poor and therefore attract illegal immigrants who seek to escape the squalor of even worse poverty across the border. Reforms to allow visiting workers may be reasonable, but they will not be just unless they also address minimum standards for pay and fair treatment of the strangers coming to us with dreams for a better life for themselves and their children–dreams similar in some ways to those shared by our own parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who came to these same shores.

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