New Jersey’s two United States Senators are urging a broad overhaul of federal immigration laws, racing to preempt Arizona’s controversial new crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez joined other Senate Democrats April 28 in signing a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to give priority to legislation that would increase border security, crack down on “unscrupulous employers” of undocumented workers, and prevent “future flows of illegal immigrants.”
Local immigration activists joined a national outcry over the Arizona statute.
After it takes effect at the end of July, the statute will allow police to stop and arrest a person without a warrant if there is reason to believe that that person is in the state illegally.
“That could be cut off by having a federal law that preempts this, and that’s what we need,” said Shai Goldstein, executive director of the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network. “That is the only long-term solution. We are opening the floodgates to all kinds of ‘May I see your papers, please?’ legislation. That is not the America I grew up in.”
Goldstein joined other supporters of reform in an April 28 conference call with New Jersey reporters.
In their letter to Obama, Senate supporters said the federal proposal “must include a pathway to earned citizenship that requires undocumented immigrants to pay taxes and fines, pass background checks, learn English, and go to the back of the line” to become eligible for citizenship.
“We certainly need secure borders, but the most important way we secure our borders is through a system of legalization, through a system of integration that is based on reality and not xenophobia,” Goldstein said. “What we are seeing now is the xenophobic rhetoric that is taking place, and it must be replaced by reasoned action.”
While reform advocates said Menendez has played a prominent role in advocating reform, some had concern that Lautenberg had not been as vocal recently in support of such legislation.
Without realizing Lautenberg had just signed on to the letter, the advocates used their conference call with New Jersey reporters to request his support.
“Let’s make this clear: Frank Lautenberg is a strong supporter of immigration reform,” Goldstein said. “Because of his gravitas, his wisdom, his ability to build bridges, and his recent speedy recovery — we have seen the strength and enthusiasm that is in him. We want him to take that strength and utilize it to do what he cares so passionately about as a son of an immigrant to make sure the opportunities he’s had and we’ve had are open to everybody.”
Moments after the call ended, NJ Jewish News contacted Lautenberg’s office for a response.
“He just signed the letter,” said the senator’s press secretary, Caley Gray.
“It was not a matter of whether he was going to sign the letter, but when,” said Goldstein when informed of Lautenberg’s action. Before becoming head of the immigration reform organization, Goldstein worked in the state’s Jewish community as an executive of the Anti-Defamation League and Israel Bonds.
Martine Apodaca, communications director of the Reform Immigration for America Campaign, told reporters on the call that “unless the federal government acts quickly, you are going to see a whole lot more of this kind of activity” and that the new Arizona law will be replicated in Texas, Florida, and Ohio.
Gideon Aronoff of South Orange, president and CEO of HIAS, the Jewish migrants assistance agency, wrote an op-ed for JTA urging the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform and saying the “draconian” Arizona law was reminiscent of the policies of the Nazis and Soviet police.
Although the situation in Arizona is “very different from these tragic memories,” he wrote, the policies are reminiscent of times when “some of us were forced to identify ourselves by yellow stars and many of us by having ‘Yevrey’ (‘Jew’ in Russian) stamped on our identification papers.”