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Senate’s Failure to Move Forward with Immigration Reform Draws Criticism

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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