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Stalling of immigration bill slammed

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which has organized rallies on behalf of  immigration reform like the one shown here, was among several Jewish groups that criticized the U.S. Senate for failing to advance the issue in a June 28 vote. (HIAS Archives)

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which has organized rallies on behalf of immigration reform like the one shown here, was among several Jewish groups that criticized the U.S. Senate for failing to advance the issue in a June 28 vote. (HIAS Archives)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Several Jewish organizations criticized the U.S. Senate for failing to move forward on immigration reform.

On June 28, the Senate voted not to
end the debate over immigration legislation backed by President Bush and
members of both parties.

“The Jewish community understands well what it means to
come to this country to seek freedom and opportunity and be with family
members,” said Gideon Aronoff, the president and CEO of the Hebrew
Immigrant Aid Society, in a statement following the Senate vote. “This generation of immigrants must not be denied
that same opportunity.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by officials at the
American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council
for Public Affairs, an umbrella group that seeks to coordinate
positions on public policy among 14 national organizations and more than 100 local Jewish
communities. JCPA had lobbied actively for the bipartisan bill and has pledged
to continue fighting for immigration reform.

The bill, which fell 14 votes shy of the 60 needed to advance to a final
vote, focused on border enforcement and how to bring an approximate 12 million
illegal aliens out of the shadows. It stalled in the Senate after a massive
grassroots campaign by conservatives who felt the legislation did not
adequately address border security, and was too conciliatory toward those who
arrived in the United States illegally and to their employers.

Each of the Jewish organizations agreed that while the bill
was not perfect, it progressed from an unacceptable status quo.

Richard Foltin, AJCommittee’s legislative director and
counsel, said his organization had concerns over the rights of employees
under the bill’s temporary worker program. Still, he added, the measure held
promise.

“The Senate bill could have been a positive first step towards
enacting a law that strikes an appropriate balance between increasing the security
of our nation’s borders and better incorporating newcomers into American
society,” he said.

Focusing on the immigrants’ plight, Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation
League national director, said: “Illegal immigration will continue, the
ranks of the vulnerable, undocumented underclass will continue to grow, and
hostile local ordinances will continue to target immigrants and undermine
community policing efforts.”

His statement added that resistance to
immigration reform is being stoked by “anti-foreigner propaganda.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition sought to tamp down some of
the debate’s heated rhetoric.

“On all sides of this debate there is strong passion, and
it should go without saying that reasonable people can disagree about how to
proceed,” the RJC said in a statement on the eve of the vote, noting that its
own membership’s views were “diverse.”

Jewish lawmakers overwhelmingly favored the bill. Of the 13 in the Senate, 11
voted to close debate: Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.),
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.),
Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.),
Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Senators voting against were Norm Coleman (R-Minn.),
facing a tough re-election bid in 2008, and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), a
socialist who excoriated what he said was the bill’s failure to protect laborers’
rights.

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