President Obama addressed many crucial issues during last night’s State of the Union address. I was pleased to hear him discuss shared economic prosperity, gun violence prevention, and equal pay for equal work, all of which are issues that we at Bend the Arc are committed to supporting.
But what really got my attention was hearing the President insist that we fix our broken immigration system, which is both an economic and a moral imperative.
After discussions with our board, staff, and leaders around the country, it became clear to me that working for common sense immigration reform is a priority for our community and our organization.
It shouldn’t be news to anyone that the American Jewish community strongly supports common sense immigration reform. For many of us, our own immigrant stories are still fresh in our family’s collective memory. And the Jewish collective memory speaks to our people as immigrants from the moment Abram was called to “Go forth from your homeland” and down through the millennia.
For Bend the Arc, the question has not been whether we will take a stand in favor of common sense immigration reform, but where we can make the most difference in the debate, as social justice advocates, and as Jews. We will stand with our brothers and sisters in support of a creating a path to citizenship and a fair system to deal with the future flow of immigrants coming to pursue their own chance at the American dream. And in the days, weeks and months ahead we will ask you many times to take action to help achieve these goals.
In addition, after consultation with stakeholders throughout our community who have looked at the developing landscape on this issue, Bend the Arc has chosen to focus our advocacy on two specific aspects of immigration reform that could easily fall prey to the politics of fear and divisiveness: economic protections for the 11 million people who currently toil in the shadow economy, and immigration equality for LGBT Americans and their families.
As an organization dedicated to bringing Jewish voices and values to the table, Bend the Arc will fight to ensure that any immigration reform legislation mandates that minimum wage laws and other worker protections are enforced, regardless of a worker’s immigration status. Without such protections, millions of people will continue to be economically exploited and forced to work in dangerous conditions. Nothing could more directly offend Jewish teaching and tradition which, for thousands of years, have recognized an obligation to protect workers and treat them fairly.
In addition to worker protections, we will raise our voices and organize our allies to counter the forces of the religious right that are already trying to ensure that immigration reform leaves same sex couples out in the cold. LGBT Americans should be able to sponsor a spouse or permanent partner in the same way opposite sex couples have long been able to do. While the President and many members of Congress have voiced support for LGBT equality in immigration reform, it is essential to have faith communities support this in a highly visible way in order to combat those who would claim the mantel of faith and morality to promote injustice and bigotry.
Last week I was honored to be asked to submit testimony to the House Judiciary Committee as it held its first hearing of the new term on immigration. You can read our testimony here.
I look forward to your partnership as we work to ensure immigration reform that is fair and equitable and in the best interest of our entire nation.
Alan van Capelle