WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups praised the U.S. Senate’s passage of a law allowing gays to serve openly in the military and lamented its failure to legalize undocumented migrants who arrived as minors.
“With today’s vote, Americans may serve without being forced to choose between their commitment to our country and their integrity,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella public policy group, after the Senate lifted “don’t ask, don’t tell” restrictions on Saturday.
The policy, introduced in 1993, ended military investigations of suspected gays, but forced gay service members to hide their orientation under threat of discharge.
Multiple Jewish groups, including the JCPA, the Anti-Defamation League, the Reform movement and the National Council of Jewish Women, had lobbied for its repeal.
A key element in securing the repeal was that the military — in statements and in reports — reversed its opposition to open service that had led to "don’t ask, don’t tell" in the first place. Advocates of open service cited the successful integration of gays into other militaries, including in Israel.
The effort in the Senate to repeal was led by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), and the measure passed 65-31. A number of gay activists noted in blogs that Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, thought the measure important enough to devote the Sabbath to shepherding it through.
All that remains is for President Obama to enact the repeal; ending "don’t ask, don’t tell" had been one of his campaign promises.
The DREAM Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for those who arrived in the United States as undocumented minors, failed to muster the 60 votes necessary to end debate; the procedural vote Saturday was 55-41. Voting for were 52 in the Democratic caucus and three Republicans.
Many of the same Jewish groups that had lobbied for the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell" also lobbied for the DREAM Act.
“The Senate missed an opportunity to extend the American dream,” said JCPA Chairman Dr. Conrad Giles. “The children who would have been protected by the DREAM Act deserve their chance. They grew up here, graduated high school and contribute to our country. They serve in our military or are attaining a college degree. They deserve a chance to thrive as American citizens.”
The American Jewish Committee called the failure a “missed opportunity."
“Instead of creating a clear path for the many undocumented young people who have graduated American high schools and are eager to go on to college and contribute to our economy and society, the Senate has delivered a stunning and painful message that they are not welcome,” it said in a statement.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society called on the next Congress, which begins its session in January, to take up the cause.
"Our Jewish religious and ethical traditions and core American values command us to ‘welcome the stranger,’ " a HIAS statement said. "Yet potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act are really not strangers. Not only are these young people already actively part of America, but America is a part of them."
Opponents said that opening up an avenue to citizenship before controlling the flow of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border was premature and could encourage more illegal immigration.