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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

While the new Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill takes many strides toward improving our immigration system, it also includes some significant steps backward. Our Jewish tradition not only teaches us, but commands us to treat the foreigner living in our country with the same laws as our own.

When we read the lines, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God,” we often focus on the loving aspect of the message (Leviticus 19:34). You’ve heard it over and over: we were strangers in the land of Egypt, so have empathy and show compassion to the immigrants today because you know what it’s like. An important lesson. But today I draw your attention to the first phrase: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native.” We cannot discriminate against foreign-born residents of our country just because they started their lives in another place. We cannot impose different laws on them, or withhold services otherwise available to the public.

Yet this is exactly what the Senate immigration reform bill proposes. Currently there is a five year bar, or waiting period, for “lawful permanent residents” (translation: people with green cards) to become eligible for certain public benefits, including CHIP, SNAP/Food Stamps and parts of Social Security and Medicaid. There are obvious problems in this system, for example, consider the situation where a child is forced to wait five years to receive affordable health care or a struggling family must keep struggling for an arbitrary five years before receiving food assistance. That aside, though, the Senate bill just adds to this waiting period. Through the creation of the class called RPIs, or “registered provisional immigrants,” the process has now been extended from five years to a 13-15 year wait. These people will now be here lawfully and paying taxes, but excluded from essential government services. Is this what Leviticus teaches us? Instead, these immigrants will be forced to rely on soup kitchens, emergency rooms and state programs. Add this to the removal of these immigrants from affordable health care at the same time, and the situation becomes dire.

So we reiterate RAC Deputy Director Rachel Laser’s message: “We understand the nature of compromise and balance, and as such celebrate this bipartisan bill. At the same time, we know we can do better, and call upon our elected representatives to continue to strengthen this bill and to work to ensure justice for our nation’s immigrants.” The amendments filed last night in the Senate provide some hope, with Senators proposing various ways to shorten this bar and remove barriers to health care and nutrition assistance.

As the Senate prepares to vote on these amendments in the coming days, now is the time to keep telling your Members of Congress what you want to see in this bill. It is more important than ever that we speak up for justice and heed the morals of our tradition not just in our private lives, but in our public policy as well.

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Raechel Banks

About Raechel Banks

Raechel Banks is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She grew up in Dallas, TX, as a member of Temple Emanu-El. She recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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