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Aliens – and alienation
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Aliens – and alienation

A recent forum on immigration held at a local New Jersey synagogue drew a grand total of 12 people — barely more than a minyan.

You could blame the weather or the Giants game, but Allyson Gall of the American Jewish Committee, which organized the panel discussion, wondered if it wasn’t a measure of the community’s interest in the topic. “I’m surprised the Jewish community is not more engaged in this issue,” Gall said. “Is your nanny legal? We are all stakeholders in this issue.”

As if to hammer home her point, a new AJC poll pointed to some troubling Jewish attitudes on immigration. A question referred to Arizona’s new law, which “gives police the power to ask people they’ve stopped to verify their residency status.” The question continued: “Supporters say this will help crack down on illegal immigration. Opponents say it could violate civil rights and lead to racial profiling. On balance, do you support or oppose this law?

The result: 52-46 in favor of the law, with a three-point margin of error. AJC national director David Harris told JTA, “We did not expect to see majority support for the Arizona law.”

Perhaps the poll results reflect a growing sense of unease — about the economy, about jobs, about a government unwilling to tackle the big questions in a unified, coherent way. But once we were at the forefront of the issue, when Jews struggled to make a new home in a sometimes hostile country. Later we helped naturalize immigrants from the former Soviet Union. All along, we applied the example of our own community in fighting for fairness for non-Jewish immigrants, no matter the country of origin.

What’s changed? There’s widespread agreement that America’s flawed immigration system needs fixing, and even an emerging consensus about what should be done. Missing is the political will. American Jews have a lot to add to this conversation. It would be a pity if we were to sit this one out.

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