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Progress reported by ‘Progress by Pesach’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Leaders of a Jewish immigration reform initiative said they were satisfied with the new Obama administration’s progress on the issue.

Gideon Aronoff, who leads the "Progress by Pesach" campaign  for comprehensive immigration reform, said at an April 2 news conference that there has already been "more progress than I could have even imagined" on the issue in the past two months.

"We see a sea change in approach" by the Obama administration, said Aronoff, the president and CEO of HIAS.

He noted that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has, according to media reports, decided to focus more on prosecuting employers that are violating immigration laws rather than raiding businesses and arresting illegal workers, as was done last May at the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Iowa.

Aronoff also pointed to a recent decision by Homeland Security to release 27 immigrants arrested in a February raid and give them temporary legal work permits.

One of the primary goals of the campaign, launched in January, was to urge the Obama administration to change the previous policy of relying on raids as the primary methods of enforcement.

The news conference brought together rabbis from the four streams of Judaism and members of the U.S. Congress, including Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). They called for a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States through the congressional passage of comprehensive immigration reform by the end of 2009.

"We can no longer permit our nation’s failed immigration system to continue," said Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Reform Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va.

Other speakers included two Chicago Orthodox rabbis with ties to senior members of the Obama administration: Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation — he was White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s rabbi in Chicago — and Rabbi Capers Funnye, a cousin of first lady Michelle Obama.

Asked what kind of influence he could have on Emanuel, Lopatin said he would use "all the influence" he could, but that it would be less important than the fact that "the voters have spoken" and the government has "owned up to the moral standard that America was built on."

After the news conference, participants in the "Progress by Pesach" coalition — which includes 13 national and another dozen local groups — met with Tina Tchen, director of the public liaison office, to deliver petitions with more than 3,500 signatures.

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