You Are Not Free to Desist: The Struggle for Immigrant Rights Perseveres

By Emily Zucker Burns
Jewish Community Organizer, JCUA

and Irene Lehrer Sandalow
Director of Strategy and Jewish Affairs, JCUA

With 2011 underway, we find ourselves feeling a sense of frustration and disappointment at having fought so hard only to fall short in winning Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

JCUA members support immigrant rights

JCUA members support immigrant rights

With an immigrant-friendly administration stepping into our country’s leadership in 2008 we felt great hope that the movement sparked in the streets of Chicago in the summer of 2006 would mature into a legislative victory that would touch the lives of millions. After watching many blocked efforts over the past two years, most recently with the DREAM Act passage so close in December, it felt snatched out of our hands.

Our glimmer of hope has appeared to fade. As we attempt to plan for the work ahead, we can’t help but feel a lingering discouragement in trying to find the strength to continue to forge ahead.

It’s all about the families

In moments like this we must regain our perspective about what this work is all about. We remind ourselves that when we talk about social justice we know that this work is really about the individuals, families and communities, and we cannot afford to abandon them just because the fight is not easy right now. At JCUA we never leave issues after they are no longer popular or when victory appears to lie beyond our immediate grasp.

Let’s take a step back and remember why we as an organization and the Jewish community became involved in the immigrant rights movement.

With this issue having touched all of our families’ lives at some point in our histories, we feel personally that immigration at its essence is a human rights issue. Over the past number of years we have seen the real danger of a broken immigration system, and we have glimpsed what we stand to gain by fixing it.

We are witnessing people being treated in a way that goes against our country’s values and our religious values of how we treat the stranger among us. There are countless stories of families torn apart and attacks against immigrants because of racial profiling. We have read reports demonstrating how immigration reform is essential to lift our country out of economic recession and to rebuild the strength of our country.

Nasty rhetoric against immigrants

In 2011 it is even more crucial that we address immigration head-on because we have seen a very nasty rhetoric against the immigrant community. We have seen our peers and our leaders demonize outsiders and scapegoat the immigrant community for our problems.

As Jews we know too well how dangerous this discourse can be. We can’t afford to wait for a new Congress; we can’t afford to wait for someone to tell us that now is the time to work on immigration reform. We must be even more vigilant and more proactive in protecting the principles reflected in our Constitution.

A powerful movement rooted in diverse communities

While we are wary of the tone and first actions of our new Congress, we have only to look to what we have built so far to find strength to move forward: We have a powerful movement rooted in diverse immigrant communities and fighting by their side are broad representations of every sector of society, from the chambers of commerce to different faith communities to universities to allies from all ethnic backgrounds. The immigration movement represents the strength of our country; all that makes our country so great.

Every day 1,100 people are being deported, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of families struggling to carry on. As long as our immigrant friends are suffering under this system, we cannot sit back. Our work cannot be over while every day families are being separated and more and more people are being detained in conditions that are often inhumane. So today we need to be strong for all of the immigrant communities who are looking to their allies for support and partnership.

We have plenty to do, from working to protect human rights in detention centers to ensuring that other states do not move to take on Arizona-style legislation to stopping the aggressive ICE enforcement strategies such as Secure Communities. The fight for immigration reform is the civil rights issue of our time. We are not free to desist from it.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

This movement is made of individuals who have committed themselves to social justice. Tell us what motivates you continue to work for an immigration policy that represent our values of justice and compassion.

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