Compassion for immigrants is the Jewish way

Matt Goldberg

In parallels between the top news stories in Israel and the United States, one issue looms large in both countries: undocumented immigrants.
Historically, immigration is a Jewish issue, and compassion is a Jewish value. We should apply compassion as we seek solutions to immigration issues.
Here in the United States, there are stories every day leading the news about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the Dreamers, those who were brought to this country as children illegally and who were given certain protected status (though not citizenship) until the law was allowed to expire last year. Without re-authorization, these people will lose their status, lose their jobs and face deportation.
We should bear in mind that these people were brought here as children. They did not knowingly break the law and, for the most part, know no other country. They are our friends, family and co-workers, and they love the United States. How could we not treat them with compassion?
We have laws for a reason and don’t condone breaking them. But the Dreamers are a special exception. They deserve protected status – e.g., re-authorization of DACA and a path to citizenship.
Meanwhile, in Israel, the issue is very different, but parallels do exist. As war grips many African nations, those fleeing have searched for the safest and best place they could reach. Many choose Europe or other faraway places, but Israel is the closest democracy and many have made their way there by way of Egypt.
Recently, Israel completed a complex security barrier on its southern border, virtually stemming the flow of refugees there, but roughly 40,000 refugees remain with no status whatsoever. Israel, unfamiliar with large groups of non-Jews seeking entry to the country, has decided that they all need to leave, giving each person $3,500 and a one-way ticket back to Africa.
The problem is their ticket “home” is also taking them back to the very wars they fled in the first place.
How could Israel send people back to what might be their deaths? Well, Israel’s response is that most of them are not refugees fleeing war but rather economic migrants looking for better paying work. The government claims only 1 percent are political refugees.
This does not jibe with reality. The European Union has determined that roughly half of their refugees, from the same exact areas of conflict, are indeed fleeing war and strife.
Again, compassion must be the guiding principle for the Jewish state. These Africans should be treated humanely. They should not be sent back unless they choose to go. Like the United States, Israel has laws for a reason, and they rightly have unique immigration laws allowing for Jews to immigrate immediately.
But if Israel does not want to give these people a pathway to citizenship, it should help them find a third country, possibly in Europe, where they want to go and is willing to accept them. If this process takes months or even years, then certain rights must be afforded them while in Israel so they can participate in some way in Israeli society.
The JCRC will act and advocate according to our Jewish and American values. Likewise, we hope the governments of the both countries act according to their own noble ideals.

(Matt Goldberg is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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