Frequently Asked Questions on Immigration
Q. How can you urge immigration reform when so many people are losing their jobs?
A. According to a January 2010 study by UCLA’s Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, legalizing undocumented workers through comprehensive immigration reform would yield $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP over a ten year period, generate billions in additional tax revenue and consumer spending and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. The study compares data from the experience of the 1986 legalization program which also was implemented during a recession yet it still helped raise wages and spurred increases in educational, home, and small-business investments by newly legalized immigrants. Enacting a comprehensive immigration reform plan which creates a legalization process for undocumented workers and sets a flexible visa program dependent on U.S. labor would raise the wage floor for all American workers —particularly in industries where large numbers of easily exploited, low-wage, unauthorized immigrants currently work.
Q. Won’t legalizing immigrants take jobs away from unemployed Americans?
A. A recent study from the Immigration Policy Forum entitled “The Economic Blame Game: U.S. Unemployment is Not Caused by Immigration” shows U.S. unemployment is not caused by immigration and there is no direct correlation between the presence of recent immigrants and unemployment levels at the regional, state, or county level. Immigrants create more jobs than they themselves fill. They do so directly by starting new businesses and indirectly through their expenditures on U.S. goods and services. Also, Native-born workers and recent immigrant workers are different and not easily interchangeable and recent immigrants often work at jobs that others in the community refuse to perform.
Q. Why should Jews be concerned about undocumented immigrants?
A. The need for the Jewish community to take a strong stance on immigration reform stems from its values and its history. The Jewish community prides itself on upholding the Jewish values of “Protecting the Ger (Stranger),” and caring for the poor. Jewish communal organizations have historically been in the forefront of immigration reform efforts understanding that our own people have been migrants looking for a place to be welcomed and the U.S. has been the best friend to Jews looking for safe haven.
Q. “My Jewish grandparents waited their turn and came here legally, why can’t new immigrants do the same?”
A. Until Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) is passed, there is virtually no path to legal residency and citizenship available to the majority of new immigrants. Only around World War I did the U.S. and other nations establish formal systems for documenting immigrants. The 1924 National Origins Act for the first time imposed broad immigration quotas. Until 1965, the U.S. imposed no limits on the number of immigrants allowed from North and South America. Nearly all these immigrants were legal. Many members of the Jewish community came to this country illegally fleeing persecution and looking for better opportunities for them and their family.
Q. “Why are there so many people coming here now from Mexico and Central and South America?”
A. U.S. trade policy, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, 1994) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA, 2005), has made it extremely difficult for many people to survive in their home countries. NAFTA and CAFTA have created greater wealth disparity, destroyed agriculture as a means for income, and reduced wages in all countries involved. According to a 2006 study in Immigration Policy in Focus, the process of North American economic integration, and development within Mexico itself, create structural conditions that encourage Mexican migration to the United States. While NAFTA has increased relative wages for some skilled workers in Mexico, the low-wage manufacturing sector has during the NAFTA years and real manufacturing wages are some 11 percent lower than when the agreement went into effect. Overall, since NAFTA was signed, the wage disparity in Mexico has worsened. [i]
Q. What are some of the motivations of anti-immigrant groups?
A. The anti-immigration movement is motivated by the same old xenophobic feelings as anti-Semitism. A report in 2009 from Southern Poverty Law Center demonstrates that the three largest anti immigration groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and Numbers USA, stand at the nexus of the American nativist movement. Although on the surface they appear quite different are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the “puppeteer” of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots. […] Tanton has been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has met with leading white supremacists, promoted anti-Semitic ideas, and associated closely with the leaders of a eugenicist foundation once described by a leading newspaper as a “neo-Nazi organization.” He has made a series of racist statements about Latinos and worried that they were outbreeding whites.
Q. Advocating for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who broke the law to become automatically legal citizens doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t there be consequences for them breaking the law?
A. The current legislations are not advocating for automatic citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants. Instead it is advocating for a pathway for citizenship, where immigrants have the opportunity to earn their citizenship. The immigrants will go through the background checks and pay their fair share of taxes. They will go through a process which is not a guarantee but an opportunity to get legal status.
Q. What is role of the We Were Strangers Too Campaign in the immigration reform campaign and who are some of the Jewish organizations sponsoring this initiative?
A. The We Were Strangers Campaigns works as an ally with immigrant communities and organizations. The call for immigration reform is being made by local and national immigrant-led and immigrant rights groups. We are speaking up as Jews, alongside immigrant communities. We know that we can only make change together.
The members of the We Were Strangers Too Coalition are: American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Jewish Community Action, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern Arizona, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews United for Justice, Jewish Labor Committee, Miklat! A Jewish Response to Displacement , National Council of Jewish Women, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Rabbinical Assembly, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Union for Reform Judaism, and Uri L’Tzedek.
[i] “ACHIEVING ‘SECURITY AND PROSPERITY’: Migration and North American Economic Integration,” Immigration Policy in Focus, Feb. 2006.