WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups are slamming Arizona’s stringent new immigration-enforcement law, but hope outrage over the measure will reignite efforts to push comprehensive immigration reform on a national level.
"I believe that it has absolutely ignited a movement across this country for comprehensive immigration reform,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the daughter of Jewish immigrants, who is a co-sponsor of a bill that would provide illegal immigrants with an opportunity to normalize their status. “You see people pouring out of their homes and into the streets and halls of government rejecting this notion of allowing our country to become a police state.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act into law last week, though the measure won’t go into effect for 90 days. The new law requires that police check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant, a tactic civil liberties groups and several Jewish organizations say effectively mandates racial profiling.
Proponents of the law say the tough measures are necessary — given the federal government’s failure to act — to rescue the state from a flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico that they say sap taxpayer-funded programs and, in some cases, commit violent crime. They also note that the governor has issued an executive order establishing a training program on how to avoiding racial profiling when implementing the new rules.
On Monday, following a weekend of protests, vandals — apparently opposed to the new law — smeared refried beans in the shape of swastikas on the windows of the Arizona State Capitol buildings, The Associated Press reported. More protests were being planned, including a vigil organized by the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
The new law has been criticized by an array of Jewish groups, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Simon Wiesenthal Center, National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy umbrella group comprised of the synagogue movements, several national groups and scores of local Jewish communities across North America.
Gideon Aronoff, the president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, who supports legislation like Schakowsky’s and that of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said he is working actively with other Jewish organizations to draft a broad statement condemning the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive reform. HIAS also is coordinating with its partners in Arizona and anticipates that rallies, the filing of amicus briefs and other actions may be warranted in the near future.
“Are most of the Latinos who suffer from this law Jewish? The answer is no, but we look at this through the oral commandment of ‘welcome the stranger,’ " Aronoff said. "We are all Americans, we are all our brothers’ keepers. We have an obligation not to stand by when legislation so harmful is put through.”
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Jewish Democrat, referred to the immigration bill as one that “nationally embarrasses Arizona” in an Op-Ed piece published Saturday in The Washington Post.
“Already, I have called a special meeting of the Phoenix City Council to establish standing to sue the state on the grounds that S.B. 1070 unconstitutionally co-opts our police force to enforce immigration laws that are the rightful jurisdiction of the federal government,” Gordon wrote.
Eight of the state’s Reform rabbis wrote a letter to Brewer urging the governor to veto the measure, calling it "an affront to American values of justice and our historic status as a nation of immigrants." And The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix voiced concern in an editorial that the new law would lead to racial profiling and questioning of U.S. citizens.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement that “Allowing an individual’s accent or skin color to precipitate an investigation into his or her legal status is an anathema to American values of justice and our historic status as a nation of immigrants. The bill is also likely to endanger our communities by discouraging immigrants from cooperating with law enforcement on issues of national security.”
Along similar lines, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement saying that "This law makes no sense — it guarantees and stigmatizes people of color as second-class citizens and exposes them to intimidation and the use of racial profiling as a weapon of bias."
Amy Laff, chair of the Arizona chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix that she has lingering concerns about the new law.
“I’m concerned that the law will be viewed by many as mean spirited and hostile to minorities,” she said. “I’m also disturbed by the prospect of Arizona residents filing actions against law enforcement personnel whom they deem not to be enforcing federal immigration statutes to the full extent of the law.”
Another Jewish Republican, state Sen. Barbara Leff, voted for the law and defended it.
Leff, the only Jewish member of the Arizona Senate, told the local Jewish newspaper that “no one can be stopped without probable cause, and no one can be asked anything about their immigration status without there being reasonable suspicion that they are here illegally. Racial profiling will not be tolerated in this state.”
(Debra Morton Gelbart contributed to this report from Phoenix.)