The Immigration Stigma's Got to Go

September 26, 2008

Emily Schwartz is an intern at the Religious Action Center and a senior at The George Washington University.

When I Google the term "immigration," the first result to pop up is "Related searches: illegal immigration." The correlation is offsetting. Immigration is supposed to be a word that implies hope, a better life for the people immigrating. Yet the term has a negative stigma, and politicians don't want to talk about it.

Yesterday I attended a meeting with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. Sitting around a conference table were a diverse group of individuals, and I was astounded by the array of different beliefs that must have existed in that room. Yet throughout the meeting, there was neither an argument nor disagreement, merely a common sharing of ideas. Everyone in that room, though coming from various backgrounds, agreed that comprehensive immigration reform was something worth fighting for.

In the past few weeks, I have been researching my family history for a class in school. Some of my grandparents and all of my great-grandparents immigrated to this country from different parts of Eastern Europe. The transition to becoming Americans wasn't easy, and it is because of their sacrifices that I enjoy freedoms and privileges today. The Torah tells us "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34). Whether we are first, third or tenth generation Americans, we still owe it to those who were here before us that welcomed our families. 

In this election year, immigration has not been a hot-button topic. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition has been tirelessly working on a transition document the outlines the principles of immigration reform for the next administration. Comprehensive immigration reform, as outlined by the Reform Movement in 2006 includes requirements that all immigrants be treated justly with the basic principles of human dignity and human rights, border security reformation based on effectiveness and humanity, an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, and due process for detainees. 
These principles of comprehensive immigration reform come from a Jewish and a human concept of basic rights. The entire interfaith coalition agrees upon the need for reform based on these rights. The negative stigma surrounding "immigration" deserves to be changed. America is a country of immigrants. 

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