JSPAN Haggadah Supplement: The Immigration Crisis

supplementThe 2016 Jewish Social Policy Action Network Haggadah Supplement edited by Steven Sussman and Kenneth Myers is entitled “The Immigration Crisis: A Pesach Seder Reflection for 2016” and focuses on immigrants and refugees. Their plight calls to us at this season of the Jewish year when we remember that we were exiled from our homeland and enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, and then stateless nomads for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, at the mercy of the elements, often losing faith as danger surrounded us.

At your Seder, consider the crisis in Europe and what we can do to relieve the suffering of refugees.

The supplement is now available for download.

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Trump and the Duma Killers: Caught Between Two Extremes

ajcPollLike many Jews I cannot believe that a leading contender for the office of President of the United States is demonizing Mexicans, suggesting a religious test for entry into the United States and proposing a database targeting American Muslims. We have seen this picture before, and it never turns out very well for us.

While this extremist movement — the New Republic uses the term “fascist” — is unfolding in the U.S., we are witnessing a similar and even more radical phenomenon in Israel. In the aftermath of this past July’s brutal firebomb murder of three members of a Palestinian family, including an 18-month-old baby, in the West Bank village of Duma, Israeli security services have arrested nearly 100 young men, described in The Times of Israel as “far-right Orthodox extremists.” The label seems paradoxical, especially when accompanied by photos of smiling young men, each in a full-cover, knitted kippah and other traditional religious garb. The sense of shock and disbelief generated by this violent crime was compounded by the video above, released by Israeli Channel 10, of a Jewish wedding reception that included military weapons, knives and Molotov cocktails being waved in celebration of the Duma massacre.

Of course, not all West Bank settlers are terrorists, nor are all Republicans “Trumpers.” In fact, it may be tempting to dismiss these examples of American and Israeli xenophobia as mere anomalies — but they are not. Both Trump in America and Jewish terrorists in Israel are simply the logical, albeit radical, extension of long-brewing ideological developments. In the case of Trump, it is developments in the Republican Party; in the case of Israel, it is the West Bank settler movement. In both cases, it is time to recognize the insidious antecedents of these two related extremes.

The election of Barack Obama galvanized the right wing of the Republican Party. It shocked the white establishment of the Party and its white working-class supporters, who have been alienated by the many social changes that have taken place in America over the last 50 years. This animus has driven Republicans to stymie everything President Obama has stood for, from health care to gun control to immigration.

The attempt to discredit Obama’s presidency also includes the conspiracy theorists’ “Birther” movement, which is based on the claim that Obama was not born in America and, therefore, is ineligible to be president. Early in the Obama presidency, an article published on the online media website Salon documented the level of support for the Birther movement among Republicans in Congress.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has become the poster child of this movement. He also represents extreme right-wing positions on immigration. For example, he is simply one-upping Representative Steve King (Rep., IA), who, in a 2013 interview with Newsmax, claimed that Mexican immigrants were overwhelmingly drug runners. All told, it would appear that “Trumpism” has deep roots in the extreme positions that have become mainstream in the Republican Party. Trump is, in effect, simply the “über-Republican.”

What then of the Jewish terrorist network emerging among Israeli West Bank settlers? The spiritual headquarters of religious Zionism in Israel and of the West Bank settler movement, in particular, is Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav Kook. This religious seminary was founded in 1924 by the first chief rabbi of what was then Palestine, HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook. The yeshivah’s website pays homage to the founder, noting that HaRav Kook “was the great soul of religious Zionism. He saw in it the process of redemption and the anticipation of the Mashiach (Messiah).”

This form of Zionism is not the political Zionism envisioned by Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion. This is a movement that understands the establishment of the State of Israel as a harbinger of the arrival of the Messiah. For some, this eventual messianic kingdom includes Jewish control of the West Bank and Gaza. Therefore, it is no anomaly that, as The Times of Israel reports, the perpetrators of the Duma massacre spray painted the walls of their victims’ home in the West Bank with the words “Yehi ha-melekh ha-mashiach,” “Long live the king messiah.” The truth is that the seeds of the Duma attack were sown many decades ago.

For a powerless people, as the Jewish people were for 2,000 years, a messianic vision offers profound hope in the midst of despair. The problem arises when powerlessness is substituted with the world’s fifth most powerful military. In that case, the march toward the messianic era becomes inexorable. Nothing may impede its progress; any action is acceptable that leads to that goal. Indeed, one West Bank settler, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of the settlement of Yitzhar, authored a book published in 2009 known as “Torat HaMelech,” “The King’s Torah.” According to the Israeli online media outlet YNet, the book explains that “[h]urting small children makes sense if it’s clear that they’ll grow up to harm us, and in such a situation – the injury will be directed at them of all people.” The perpetrators of the Duma massacre were simply fulfilling Rabbi Shapira’s Torah.

So what is to be done? One thing history has taught us is that extremist, fascist movements always emerge insidiously. There is rarely some spontaneous mass movement. In this gradual process, we are often caught unawares. We think that these tendencies are anomalies advanced by some fringe group. These groups start by pushing boundaries, and when they receive little or no resistance, they push harder. The only way to stop them is to push back — and to push back aggressively, although non-violently. But we must be prepared to do that against any extremist, not only one with flaming orange hair, but also one wearing a kippah.

Trump’s Rhetoric on Immigration Hurts US, Helps ISIL

A K-1 (Fiancee) Visa

A K-1 (Fiancee) Visa

It is a rare day when Dick Cheney and Lindsay Graham are in agreement with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslim entry into the U.S. are so absurd and outrageous that he has people on both sides of the aisle railing against him.

In Trump’s simplistic, uninformed world view, the constitutional questions of a religious test to enter the U.S. are of no concern. Neither are details of how one would determine who is a Muslim. Would Trump call for Caucasian or Christian males like himself be barred from theaters, schools, or political gatherings since the majority of mass shooters share his ethnicity or religion?

Ignorant of the thousands of applicants whose visas are denied, revoked, cancelled, or stuck in interminable security checks every day, Trump’s proposed solution accepts the radical’s narrative of religion, exposes his ignorance on the laws and processes of this country, and poses an even greater threat to national security than the national security problems they purport to solve. This latest proposal is much the same as his “solution” for immigration reform in general: build a wall.

The reality is comprehensive inter-agency counter-terrorism screening has been a part of the process for admission of foreign nationals since before 9/11. Since then, the visa issuance process has become vastly more complex. Applicants are screened regardless of the type of visa they apply for, be it as a student, tourist, worker, artist, or under the Visa Waiver Program, or as a permanent resident.

If a case is flagged for review based on law enforcement or intelligence, State Department regulations require a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO, to be obtained before the foreign national can receive a visa to enter the U.S. The foreign national is run through as many as seven different interconnected government databases. Other federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and the NSA are constantly consulted to update visa issuance procedures. The data in these databases is also dynamic, and can be updated quickly in response to new intelligence.

Counter-terrorism screening works, and it happens every day for every type of visa. The refugee screening process is even more exhaustive. It can take between 18 and 24 months and it takes longer to screen refugees because they usually do not have documents with them.

A “security check” is not some pro-forma review done for appearance’s sake, but is instead a thorough screening to determine whether this person will be allowed into the U.S. They are performed by government agents who take their job very seriously. Trump’s rhetoric is a slap in the face of these dedicated public servants.

Many politicians are questioning “fiancee” (K-1) visa procedures. This is also a misguided inquiry. The issue is counter-terrorism screening, not the particular visa process. And counter-terrorism screening already happens for all visas. While no system is perfect, shutting the whole thing down actually enhances the threat to America. Do Trump & Co. really think the complex security check process run and maintained by experienced officials would have been established if it would have been easier to just stop immigration?

Perhaps more importantly is the fact that Trump’s proposal only feeds into the problem that he is trying to address. National security specialist Benjamin Wittes noted that rejecting refugees, particularly on the basis of their religion or national origin, actually presents ISIL and other extremist groups fodder for their narrative of an apocalyptic clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. ISIL profits from Trump rhetoric. Moreover, such a call would break up families, hinder business and effectively build a wall from the rest of the world.

Terrorism has multiple causes. Pretending it can be stopped by banning Muslim entry is a fantasy soundbite made to get ratings. But real lives are at stake here. This is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction.

A robust background check system — which we already have — must be considered as one part of a broader national security strategy. Rejecting xenophobia in favor of actually countering ISIL is not just the right thing to do — it is also the safer one.

New Year’s 3 Most Important Social Issues

— by Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, President of JSPAN

The new Jewish year is a time to focus our thoughts on weighty matters of society’s concerns. We are taught that as individuals and as nations, we are responsible for our decisions that enhance or impede human freedom and the cause of justice.

In a striking image, we are reminded of the importance of every deed. Life is pictured as a balance scale: The pans are evenly loaded, with good deeds in one, and evil deeds in the other. And the next decision we make, the next act we take, will tip the scale one way or the other. Will it be to good? Or to evil?

And so it is for nations as well. Our next act will impact not only our individual lives, but the life of the nation, too, for good, or for ill.

What does this quaint image of the balance scale say to us, living in these precarious times, filled with so much violence and the threat of violence, so much injustice and so many social problems that defy solution? Do we throw our hands up in despair? Or do we get involved, believing that our righteous deed, no matter how small, can make a difference?

I became involved in JSPAN because I believe that we each have the power to improve the world with our deeds. As Jews, it is an obligation, a mitzvah, a sacred responsibility. Together, our deeds are bundled together and become transformative in ways we cannot imagine.

Jewish tradition demands of us that we be activists for those whom society has abandoned. We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. We speak for those who are weak, shunned, and made invisible.

I believe there are three key issues we need to focus on, at this time, from the standpoint of social justice.

Michael_Brown_Jr

Michael Brown.

Black Lives Matter

Over the last year the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray became household words. Why did their deaths resonate so powerfully? Was it not because they were betrayed by the very law enforcement establishment that is supposed to protect all Americans?

Some ask, why is it not enough to say “All Lives Matter”? The reason is that not all lives are treated equally. The cry “Black Lives Matter” reminds us that 150 years after the Civil War ended, even with an African-American president of the United States, to be Black in America is to live, unavoidably, in fear of the authorities, based on the belief that there are two sets of rules, one for White Americans and another for Black. This is unacceptable.

Our tradition teaches us that all human beings are created equal. We are taught that a legal system must treat each person equally and judge each person on the merits of his or her case. We must work for a society that makes this ideal a reality, and ally ourselves with others who are in the forefront of this struggle. It is overdue.

Income Inequality

In the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2008 and 2009, the consolidation of wealth among the few is breathtaking. For many Americans, jobs today are harder, less secure and less lucrative. In contrast to the wealthiest, they have lost ground economically. Unions, once the engine that created equity and dignity for working men and women see their membership dwindling and their legal protections disappearing. Government leaders balk at the idea of raising the “minimum wage” to be a “minimum living wage.” Politicians fall over themselves in efforts to diminish the safety net that guarantees that the least able among us can live with dignity.

Our tradition teaches us that each person has the right to a fair wage, and that no one can be truly free without the social guarantee of economic stability for all.

Immigration

America is a nation of immigrants. It is immigration that has made this country great.

Instead of acknowledging our immigrant past, and honoring those who, today, like our ancestors, are desperate to escape oppression and eager to embrace a brighter economic future for their children, we hear fear-mongering demagogues demean not only “illegal immigrants” but whole nations and cultures. They are even ready to jettison the Constitution and its clear definition of American citizenship in their reckless diatribes against immigrants.

Even with the lessons of the Holocaust and the shuttered American Golden Door to victims of Nazi oppression, our leaders are not willing to be part of the solution to the greatest humanitarian refugee problem facing the world today in the Middle East.

The Bible reminds us many times that we were foreigners in a foreign land. We know the soul of the stranger, the alien, the “illegal.” We Jews would not be here in America but for a wise ancestor who chose the promise of the unknown over the resigned inertia of the familiar. If the gates of America had been open during World War II under the same terms as the pre-1924 golden era of immigration, who knows how many Jews might have been saved from annihilation by the Nazis?

Progressive liberalism is born not of political currency but of prophetic mandate. It is a passion for justice that is the soul of who we are.

We must work so that our individual and collective actions will tilt the scale of justice toward security and dignity for all Americans. In that way, we will continue to evolve into a nation worthy of our ideals.

“This Immigration Plan Will Not Be Televised”

None of the major networks chose to televise the President’s signature immigration plan. We believe that whether or not you support the President’s ideas, knowing the details is very important, so we present the full text and of his address followed by comments for and against by various Jewish groups.

immigrationinfolong

— President Barack Obama

By fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.

For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities –- people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

But today, our immigration system is broken — and everybody knows it.

Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.
It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.

When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.

Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise. But it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.

Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.

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Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania Endorses Daylin Leach


Official campaign video.

— by David S. Broida, William Epstein, Burt Siegel and Jill Zipin (steering committee of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania)

State Senator Daylin Leach is the candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district who best reflects democratic as well as Jewish values. Senator Leach’s long and unwavering record of support of women and families is well known, and he will continue to work to uphold and defend the civil rights of all people.

He supports increased funding for our public schools as he believes all children need and deserve a good education. He understands, as do we, that the path to economic prosperity lies in providing our children with the best education possible.

More after the jump.
Senator Leach also has championed a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million  undocumented immigrants who live in this country. Such a pathway is both a Jewish and American value and is good for the prosperity of our nation. He also is a passionate supporter of a strong and a secure Israel.

We believe that Senator Leach will be the  best advocate for the constituents of Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district. We are pleased to add our voice to those of the many others who look forward to his victory in the May 20 democratic primary.


Update: February 7, 2014 MoveOn Endorsement

Here’s what a few MoveOn members across Pennsylvania’s 13th district had to share about Daylin:

  • “Daylin Leach is a true progressive with exceptional people skills. His sense of fair play coupled with a great sense of humor will be able to build bridges and form much-needed alliances in Congress-without compromising his principles.”
    — Susan G., Lansdale, PA
  • “I know Daylin personally. While he’s often known for his wit, he is incredibly intelligent, a tireless advocate for progressive causes, and the type of person you would actually want in Congress.”
    — Tony H., Bridgeport, PA
  • “Daylin has been my PA state senator and he is a solid progressive voice and vote. He is also a fearless progressive leader in our area and a really good guy. Doesn’t hurt that he is really smart and funny, and comes from humble beginnings so he understands the life lived by most people.”
    — Mary Ann H., King of Prussia, PA
  • “Daylin Leach is one of the most forward progressive thinkers in Pennsylvania. As a leader in public education, the environment, women’s rights, LGBT equality, and tax fairness, Daylin is bold, unapologetic, and takes action. He has given us a light at the end of the apathetic tunnel-the antithesis of the do-nothing Congress of the past two years. I endorse Senator Leach and look forward to calling him Representative Leach in 2015.”
    — Eric E., King of Prussia, PA

Obama: “Everyone Knows Our Immigration System Is Broken”

President Obama called for an immigration reform in remarks he carried at the White House yesterday:

Everybody knows that our current immigration system is broken. Across the political spectrum, people understand that. We’ve known it for years. It’s not smart to invite some of the brightest minds from around the world to study here and then not let them start businesses here — we send them back to their home countries to start businesses and create jobs and invent new products someplace else.  

The President jokingly explained the difficulty in passing the reform:

Just because something is smart and fair, and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor, and the evangelical community, and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. This is Washington, after all.  

Obama called for continued public pressure on the subject:

There are going to be moments — and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform — where you meet resistance, and the press will declare something dead, it’s not going to happen, but that can be overcome.

Full remarks after the jump.
Thank you very much. Please have a seat, everybody. Good morning, and welcome to the White House. Today I’m here with leaders from business, from labor, from faith communities who are united around one goal — finishing the job of fixing a broken immigration system.

This is not just an idea whose time has come; this is an idea whose time has been around for years now. Leaders like all of you have worked together with Republicans and Democrats in this town in good faith for years to try to get this done. And this is the moment when we should be able to finally get the job done.

Now, it’s no secret that the American people haven’t seen much out of Washington that they like these days. The shutdown and the threat of the first default in more than 200 years inflicted real pain on our businesses and on families across the country. And it was a completely unnecessary, self-inflicted wound with real costs to real people, and it can never happen again.

Even with the shutdown over, and the threat of default eliminated, Democrats and Republicans still have some really big disagreements — there are some just fundamentally different views about how we should move forward on certain issues. On the other hand, as I said the day after the shutdown ended, that’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to work together on the things that we do agree on.  

We should be able to work together on a responsible budget that invests in the things that we need to grow our economy and create jobs even while we maintain fiscal discipline. We should be able to pass a farm bill that helps rural communities grow and protects vulnerable Americans in hard times.

And we should pass immigration reform. (Applause.) We should pass immigration reform.  It’s good for our economy. It’s good for our national security. It’s good for our people. And we should do it this year.

Everybody knows that our current immigration system is broken. Across the political spectrum, people understand that. We’ve known it for years. It’s not smart to invite some of the brightest minds from around the world to study here and then not let them start businesses here — we send them back to their home countries to start businesses and create jobs and invent new products someplace else.  

It’s not fair to businesses and middle-class families who play by the rules when we allow companies that are trying to undercut the rules work in the shadow economy, to hire folks at lower wages or no benefits, no overtime, so that somehow they get a competitive edge from breaking the rules. That doesn’t make sense.  

It doesn’t make sense to have 11 million people who are in this country illegally without any incentive or any way for them to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, meet their responsibilities and permit their families then to move ahead. It’s not smart. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense. We have kicked this particular can down the road for too long.  

Now, the good news is, this year the Senate has already passed an immigration reform bill by a wide, bipartisan majority that addressed all of these issues. It’s a bill that would continue to strengthen our borders. It would level the playing field by holding unscrupulous employers accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers.  

It would modernize our legal immigration system, so that even as we train American workers for the jobs of the future, we’re also attracting highly-skilled entrepreneurs from beyond our borders to join with us to create jobs here in the United States.  

It would make sure that everybody plays by the same rules by providing a pathway to earned citizenship for those who are here illegally — one that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes, paying a penalty, getting in line behind everyone who is trying to come here the right way.

So it had all the component parts. It didn’t have everything that I wanted; it didn’t have everything that anybody wanted; but it addressed the core challenges of how we create a immigration system that is fair, that’s just, that is true to our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And that’s passed the Senate by a bipartisan majority. (Applause.)  

So here’s what we also know — that the bill would grow the economy and shrink our deficits. Independent economists have shown that if the Senate bill became law, over the next two decades our economy would grow by $1.4 trillion more than it would if we don’t pass the law. It would reduce our deficits by nearly a trillion dollars.  

So this isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. Securing our borders; modernizing our legal immigration system; providing a pathway to earned, legalized citizenship; growing our economy; strengthening our middle class; reducing our deficits — that’s what common-sense immigration reform will do.

Now, obviously, just because something is smart and fair, and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor — (laughter) — and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. (Laughter.) This is Washington, after all.  

So everything tends to be viewed through a political prism and everybody has been looking at the politics of this. And I know that there are some folks in this town who are primed to think, “Well, if Obama is for it, then I’m against it.” But I’d remind everybody that my Republican predecessor was also for it when he proposed reforms like this almost a decade ago, and I joined with 23 Senate Republicans back then to support that reform. I’d remind you that this reform won more than a dozen Republican votes in the Senate in June.  

I’m not running for office again. I just believe this is the right thing to do. (Applause.) I just believe this is the right thing to do. And I also believe that good policy is good politics in this instance. And if folks are really that consumed with the politics of fixing our broken immigration system, they should take a closer look at the polls because the American people support this. It’s not something they reject — they support it. Everybody wins here if we work together to get this done. In fact, if there’s a good reason not to pass this common-sense reform, I haven’t heard it.  

So anyone still standing in the way of this bipartisan reform should at least have to explain why. A clear majority of the American people think it’s the right thing to do.  

Now, how do we move forward? Democratic leaders have introduced a bill in the House that is similar to the bipartisan Senate bill. So now it’s up to Republicans in the House to decide whether reform becomes a reality or not.  

I do know — and this is good news — that many of them agree that we need to fix our broken immigration system across these areas that we’ve just discussed. And what I’ve said to them, and I’ll repeat today, is if House Republicans have new and different, additional ideas for how we should move forward, then we want to hear them. I’ll be listening. I know that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, those who voted for immigration reform already, are eager to hear those additional ideas. But what we can’t do is just sweep the problem under the rug one more time, leave it for somebody else to solve sometime in the future.

Rather than create problems, let’s prove to the American people that Washington can actually solve some problems. This reform comes as close to anything we’ve got to a law that will benefit everybody now and far into the future. So let’s see if we can get this done. And let’s see if we can get it done this year. (Applause.)

We’ve got the time to do it. Republicans in the House, including the Speaker, have said we should act. So let’s not wait. It doesn’t get easier to just put it off. Let’s do it now. Let’s not delay. Let’s get this done, and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion.

To those of you who are here today, I want to just say one last thing and that is &mdahs; thank you. I want to thank you for your persistence. I want to thank you for your activism. I want to thank you for your passion and your heart when it comes to this issue. And I want to tell you, you’ve got to keep it up. Keep putting the pressure on all of us to get this done. There are going to be moments — and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform — where you meet resistance, and the press will declare something dead, it’s not going to happen, but that can be overcome.

And I have to say, Joe, as I look out at this room, these don’t look like people who are easily deterred. (Laughter.)

The Vice President: I don’t think so.

The President: They don’t look like folks who are going to give up. (Applause.) You look fired up to make the next push. And whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, I want you to keep working, and I’m going to be right next to you, to make sure we get immigration reform done. It is time. Let’s go get it done.  

Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

Obama: “There Are No Winners” From Government Shutdown

President Obama today criticized GOP members of Congress for causing the government shutdown that ended yesterday, in a statement from the State Dining Room of the White House:

There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don’t know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth.  

The President called for cooperation in three key areas:

Passing a budget; immigration reform; farm bill. Those are three specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy right now. And we could get them done by the end of the year if our focus is on what’s good for the American people. And that’s just the big stuff. There are all kinds of other things that we could be doing that don’t get as much attention.  

Obama concluded his speech thanking federal workers who were not paid during the shutdown:

You defend our country overseas. You deliver benefits to our troops who’ve earned them when they come home. You guard our borders. You protect our civil rights. You help businesses grow and gain footholds in overseas markets. You protect the air we breathe and the water our children drink. And you push the boundaries of science and space, and you guide hundreds of thousands of people each day through the glories of this country. Thank you. What you do is important. And don’t let anybody else tell you different.

Full remarks after the jump.
Well, last night, I signed legislation to reopen our government and pay America’s bills. Because Democrats and responsible Republicans came together, the first government shutdown in 17 years is now over. The first default in more than 200 years will not happen. These twin threats to our economy have now been lifted. And I want to thank those Democrats and Republicans for getting together and ultimately getting this job done.  

Now, there’s been a lot of discussion lately of the politics of this shutdown. But let’s be clear: There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don’t know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth.  

We know that families have gone without paychecks or services they depend on. We know that potential homebuyers have gotten fewer mortgages, and small business loans have been put on hold. We know that consumers have cut back on spending, and that half of all CEOs say that the shutdown and the threat of shutdown set back their plans to hire over the next six months. We know that just the threat of default — of America not paying all the bills that we owe on time — increased our borrowing costs, which adds to our deficit.  

And, of course, we know that the American people’s frustration with what goes on in this town has never been higher. That’s not a surprise that the American people are completely fed up with Washington. At a moment when our economic recovery demands more jobs, more momentum, we’ve got yet another self-inflicted crisis that set our economy back. And for what?  

There was no economic rationale for all of this. Over the past four years, our economy has been growing, our businesses have been creating jobs, and our deficits have been cut in half. We hear some members who pushed for the shutdown say they were doing it to save the American economy — but nothing has done more to undermine our economy these past three years than the kind of tactics that create these manufactured crises.  

And you don’t have to take my word for it. The agency that put America’s credit rating on watch the other day explicitly cited all of this, saying that our economy “remains more dynamic and resilient” than other advanced economies, and that the only thing putting us at risk is — and I’m quoting here — “repeated brinksmanship.” That’s what the credit rating agency said. That wasn’t a political statement; that was an analysis of what’s hurting our economy by people whose job it is to analyze these things.  

That also happens to be the view of our diplomats who’ve been hearing from their counterparts internationally. Some of the same folks who pushed for the shutdown and threatened default claim their actions were needed to get America back on the right track, to make sure we’re strong. But probably nothing has done more damage to America’s credibility in the world, our standing with other countries, than the spectacle that we’ve seen these past several weeks. It’s encouraged our enemies. It’s emboldened our competitors. And it’s depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership.

Now, the good news is we’ll bounce back from this. We always do. America is the bedrock of the global economy for a reason. We are the indispensable nation that the rest of the world looks to as the safest and most reliable place to invest — something that’s made it easier for generations of Americans to invest in their own futures. We have earned that responsibility over more than two centuries because of the dynamism of our economy and our entrepreneurs, the productivity of our workers, but also because we keep our word and we meet our obligations. That’s what full faith and credit means — you can count on us.  

And today, I want our people and our businesses and the rest of the world to know that the full faith and credit of the United States remains unquestioned.

But to all my friends in Congress, understand that how business is done in this town has to change. Because we’ve all got a lot of work to do on behalf of the American people — and that includes the hard work of regaining their trust. Our system of self-government doesn’t function without it. And now that the government is reopened, and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists and the bloggers and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do, and that’s grow this economy; create good jobs; strengthen the middle class; educate our kids; lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul.  That’s why we’re here. That should be our focus.  

Now, that won’t be easy. We all know that we have divided government right now. There’s a lot of noise out there, and the pressure from the extremes affect how a lot of members of Congress see the day-to-day work that’s supposed to be done here. And let’s face it, the American people don’t see every issue the same way. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress. And when we disagree, we don’t have to suggest that the other side doesn’t love this country or believe in free enterprise, or all the other rhetoric that seems to get worse every single year. If we disagree on something, we can move on and focus on the things we agree on, and get some stuff done.

Let me be specific about three places where I believe we can make progress right now. First, in the coming days and weeks, we should sit down and pursue a balanced approach to a responsible budget, a budget that grows our economy faster and shrinks our long-term deficits further.  

At the beginning of this year, that’s what both Democrats and Republicans committed to doing. The Senate passed a budget; House passed a budget; they were supposed to come together and negotiate. And had one side not decided to pursue a strategy of brinksmanship, each side could have gotten together and figured out, how do we shape a budget that provides certainty to businesses and people who rely on government, provides certainty to investors in our economy, and we’d be growing faster right now.

Now, the good news is the legislation I signed yesterday now requires Congress to do exactly that — what it could have been doing all along.  

And we shouldn’t approach this process of creating a budget as an ideological exercise — just cutting for the sake of cutting. The issue is not growth versus fiscal responsibility — we need both. We need a budget that deals with the issues that most Americans are focused on: creating more good jobs that pay better wages.  

And remember, the deficit is getting smaller, not bigger. It’s going down faster than it has in the last 50 years. The challenges we have right now are not short-term deficits; it’s the long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security. We want to make sure those are there for future generations.  

So the key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow — like education and infrastructure and research. And these things historically have not been partisan. And this shouldn’t be as difficult as it’s been in past years because we already spend less than we did a few years ago. Our deficits are half of what they were a few years ago. The debt problems we have now are long term, and we can address them without shortchanging our kids, or shortchanging our grandkids, or weakening the security that current generations have earned from their hard work.

So that’s number one. Number two, we should finish fixing the job of — let me say that again. Number two, we should finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system.  

There’s already a broad coalition across America that’s behind this effort of comprehensive immigration reform — from business leaders to faith leaders to law enforcement. In fact, the Senate has already passed a bill with strong bipartisan support that would make the biggest commitment to border security in our history; would modernize our legal immigration system; make sure everyone plays by the same rules, makes sure that folks who came here illegally have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, meet their responsibilities. That bill has already passed the Senate. And economists estimate that if that bill becomes law, our economy would be 5 percent larger two decades from now. That’s $1.4 trillion in new economic growth.  

The majority of Americans think this is the right thing to do. And it’s sitting there waiting for the House to pass it. Now, if the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let’s hear them. Let’s start the negotiations. But let’s not leave this problem to keep festering for another year, or two years, or three years. This can and should get done by the end of this year.  

Number three, we should pass a farm bill, one that American farmers and ranchers can depend on; one that protects vulnerable children and adults in times of need; one that gives rural communities opportunities to grow and the long-term certainty that they deserve.  

Again, the Senate has already passed a solid bipartisan bill. It’s got support from Democrats and Republicans. It’s sitting in the House waiting for passage. If House Republicans have ideas that they think would improve the farm bill, let’s see them. Let’s negotiate. What are we waiting for? Let’s get this done.

So, passing a budget; immigration reform; farm bill. Those are three specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy right now. And we could get them done by the end of the year if our focus is on what’s good for the American people. And that’s just the big stuff. There are all kinds of other things that we could be doing that don’t get as much attention.  

I understand we will not suddenly agree on everything now that the cloud of crisis has passed. Democrats and Republicans are far apart on a lot of issues. And I recognize there are folks on the other side who think that my policies are misguided — that’s putting it mildly. That’s okay. That’s democracy. That’s how it works. We can debate those differences vigorously, passionately, in good faith, through the normal democratic process.  

And sometimes, we’ll be just too far apart to forge an agreement. But that should not hold back our efforts in areas where we do agree. We shouldn’t fail to act on areas that we do agree or could agree just because we don’t think it’s good politics; just because the extremes in our party don’t like the word “compromise.”  

I will look for willing partners wherever I can to get important work done. And there’s no good reason why we can’t govern responsibly, despite our differences, without lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis. In fact, one of the things that I hope all of us have learned these past few weeks is that it turns out smart, effective government is important. It matters. I think the American people during this shutdown had a chance to get some idea of all the things, large and small, that government does that make a difference in people’s lives.

We hear all the time about how government is the problem. Well, it turns out we rely on it in a whole lot of ways. Not only does it keep us strong through our military and our law enforcement, it plays a vital role in caring for our seniors and our veterans, educating our kids, making sure our workers are trained for the jobs that are being created, arming our businesses with the best science and technology so they can compete with companies from other countries. It plays a key role in keeping our food and our toys and our workplaces safe. It helps folks rebuild after a storm. It conserves our natural resources. It finances startups. It helps to sell our products overseas. It provides security to our diplomats abroad.  

So let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

And that brings me to one last point. I’ve got a simple message for all the dedicated and patriotic federal workers who’ve either worked without pay or been forced off the job without pay these past few weeks, including most of my own staff: Thank you. Thanks for your service. Welcome back. What you do is important. It matters.

You defend our country overseas. You deliver benefits to our troops who’ve earned them when they come home. You guard our borders. You protect our civil rights. You help businesses grow and gain footholds in overseas markets. You protect the air we breathe and the water our children drink. And you push the boundaries of science and space, and you guide hundreds of thousands of people each day through the glories of this country. Thank you. What you do is important. And don’t let anybody else tell you different. Especially the young people who come to this city to serve — believe that it matters. Well, you know what, you’re right. It does.

And those of us who have the privilege to serve this country have an obligation to do our job as best we can. We come from different parties, but we are Americans first. And that’s why disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can’t degenerate into hatred. The American people’s hopes and dreams are what matters, not ours. Our obligations are to them. Our regard for them compels us all, Democrats and Republicans, to cooperate, and compromise, and act in the best interests of our nation — one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Senate Passes Immigration Reform Measure‏

— by Marc R. Stanley

The Senate has taken a huge step toward reforming our immigration system and creating a more just America. Now it is up to the House of Representatives to take immediate action on this important issue. Inaction by Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and the rest of the GOP leadership will only continue to prove that the Republican Party is tone deaf to the will of the American people — especially when it comes to Jewish Americans and our partners in the Jewish community who worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.

Stanley recently authored an op-ed in The Huffington Post on how the current immigration reform proposal reflects Jewish values.

Reaction from the President and Jewish Organizations (NJDC, BBI, JCPA) follow the jump.
President Barack Obama:

Statement by President Obama on Senate Passage of Immigration Reform

Today, with a strong bipartisan vote, the United States Senate delivered for the American people, bringing us a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all.

I thank Majority Leader Reid, Senator Leahy, Senator Schumer, and every member of the ‘Gang of Eight’ for their leadership, and I commend all Senators who worked across party lines to get this done.  

The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise.  By definition, nobody got everything they wanted.  Not Democrats.  Not Republicans.  Not me.  But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I – and many others – have repeatedly laid out.

If enacted, the Senate bill would establish the most aggressive border security plan in our history.  It would offer a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are in this country illegally – a pathway that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes and a penalty, and then going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally.  It would modernize the legal immigration system so that it once again reflects our values as a nation and addresses the urgent needs of our time.  And it would provide a big boost to our recovery, by shrinking our deficits and growing our economy.

Today, the Senate did its job.  It’s now up to the House to do the same.

As this process moves forward, I urge everyone who cares about this issue to keep a watchful eye.  Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality.  We cannot let that happen.  If you’re among the clear majority of Americans who support reform – from CEOs to labor leaders, law enforcement to clergy – reach out to your Member of Congress.  Tell them to do the right thing.  Tell them to pass commonsense reform so that our businesses and workers are all playing by the same rules and everyone who’s in this country is paying their fair share in taxes.

We have a unique opportunity to fix our broken system in a way that upholds our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  We just need Congress to finish the job.

B’nai B’rith International:

B’nai B’rith International welcomes the Senate’s passage of a bill overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.

B’nai B’rith has been a staunch supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. We commend the bipartisan group of senators who worked to form a consensus on a more just and humane immigration policy.

This compromise legislation would strengthen border security and employment verification while creating a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. It would also allow for more legal immigration of low-skilled and high-skilled workers.

Comprehensive immigration reform is a welcome and worthy accomplishment. We urge the House to quickly consider and pass the bill.

National Jewish Democratic Council:

The Jewish community strongly supports immigration reform. According to a recent survey, 70% of American Jews believe that welcoming the stranger and pursuing justice are important political values. Further, a strong majority of Americans are in support of proposals that allow undocumented workers to achieve legal status, increase border security and enforcement, and increase visas for technology and science.

Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) President Rabbi Steve Gutow:

We are an Immigration Nation. For hundreds of years, people from all over the world have traveled to the United States to build better lives. Our national commitment to immigration has been critical to our national prosperity: powering innovation, creativity, and growth. However, over the past decades, our system has become tarnished with an outmoded visa system, long waiting times, harsh detention and deportation policies, and millions of immigrants without a lawful status. Today, the U.S. Senate acted in accordance with our best values: national leaders compromising to expand justice, dignity, and opportunity. In the Torah, we are taught to ‘welcome the stranger.’ Today, the Senate restored our national commitment to immigration and relight the torch of promise that welcomes aspiring Americans through the golden door.

JCPA Chair Larry Gold:

We applaud the leadership and conviction of the bipartisan group of Senators that introduced and guided this bill. That spirit of compromise and cooperation has sadly become a rarity in Washington, but today is a reminder of the important results it can yield. The Senate today has taken an important step towards a more humane system of immigration that reflects our morals while meeting our security and economic needs. However, this bill still needs improvement. We remain concerned about the level of resources being dedicated to the Southern border and how this impact communities. We look forward to working with Congress to refine this legislation. The Senate’s action today was a model of bipartisanship and we encourage the House of Representatives to adopt this spirit and quickly consider this serious bill that would bring our immigration system into the 21st century.

From Refusniks to Dreamers: Americans and Immigration Policy


Connie Smukler (bottom left) with “refusniks” Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, and an American official

— by Hannah Lee

Jews have an abiding faith in immigration, going back to our Biblical roots and continuing with our arrival in the United States. This faith also showed last century, with the movement to free Soviet Jewry, in which Philadelphian Jews had a prominent role. Finally, the recent discussions on immigration reform resonate for many Jewish people. These were the topics of a forum held on June 20 at the National Museum of American Jewish History, and coordinated by the Russian-Speaking Professionals Network of Greater Philadelphia.

Connie Smukler shared stories of her many trips to the Soviet Union, meeting with prominent (and ordinary) “refusniks,” and lobbying for their freedom. Marina Merlin, now working for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) Pennsylvania, spoke of her family’s struggle to leave their country, which was painstakingly slow, degrading, and financially draining, as her husband had to leave his beloved job as a physicist in order to keep his co-workers from scrutiny by the KGB (the Soviet security agency).

Igor Kotler, executive director of the Museum of Human Rights, Freedom and Tolerance, gave an overview of the Soviet Jewry movement, dating its forming to 1969, when a group of Georgian Jews asked permission to leave for Israel. This was a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, that put Israel in the headlines and gave Russian Jews the impetus to study their Jewish heritage and history.

More after the jump.
The honorable Carlos Giralt-Cabrales, consul-general of Mexico in Philadelphia, gave the keynote speech, in which he noted that the Mexican immigration started with an invitation, by the President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to replenish the agricultural labor force during World War II. Under what was known as the Bracero Program, about 4 1/2 million workers migrated to the United States since August 1942 and until the end of the program in 1964. Another interesting point was that this was a temporary migration, with the workers returning home to Mexico. The border enforcements of recent times broke the pattern of seasonal migration, which led to a permanent and often undocumented settlement in the United States.

Giralt-Cabrales said that there is a social and economic contradiction in the undocumented immigration, as we need the labor, but do not want the workers. “As next-door neighbors, it behooves us to seek a workable solution to our common problem,” he said. The Consul-General deems the Mexican immigration as a strictly economic one, as workers move to where there are plenty of jobs.

Judi Bernstein-Baker, the executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania, noted the differences and similarities between the movement to free Soviet Jewry and today’s struggle of immigrants to achieve a path to citizenship. The Soviet Jewry movement was a reaction to totalitarianism and a striving for religious freedom. The similarity between the two struggles is that it took protests, rallies, allies and legislation for exchange. Bernstein-Baker explained that many immigrants have lived in the U.S. for 10 or 20 years in the shadows, and supporting their effort to participate in the mainstream by earning a path to citizenship is “a very Jewish thing to do.”


Maria Sotomayer and a young ally at a rally with the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition

Maria Sotomayer is one of the young “DREAMers,” who are advocates for potential beneficiaries of the Development, Relief, and Education For Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would provide a conditional path to lawful permanent residence for certain undocumented youth brought to the United States as children. She arrived from Ecuador when she was nine, her parents worked in several jobs, and she earned good grades in school. But her prospects without documentation would be low-skill jobs such as hers at the pizza shop. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memorandum, issued by the Department of Homeland Security in June 2012, changed her life. She has since graduated from Neumnann College, obtained a work permit, and now works for the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. She hopes to attend graduate school to study psychology.

Bernstein-Baker noted that the publicity of the temporary opportunity for young aliens to apply for legal status with a work permit, a Social Security card, and a driver’s license — all under DACA — has broadened awareness of other avenues for legal status, already in place, such as for young immigrants who had been abused, abandoned, or victims of trafficking.

“The tenor of the public debate on immigration has shifted rapidly in recent years,” says Francois Ihor-Mazur, an immigrant lawyer, who no longer hears the query, “Why don’t you go to the back of the line, because there is no line to go behind.”

A central message of the program was that this is country “was built by immigrants, for immigrants,” said Giralt-Cabrales. It was an absorbing symposium that generated much food for thought, as well as continuing education credits for the lawyers in the audience.