JCRC, Reform rabbis decry Arizona immigration law

The Jewish Community Relations Council, the public affairs and social justice arm of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, has adopted a position statement in response to Gov. Jan Brewer’s recent signing into law of SB 1070, Immigration:  Law Enforcement; Safe Neighborhoods Act and its potential impact on human rights. In addition, says JCRC Director Brenda Landau, a newly formed task force will address JCRC’s future actions regarding this position.

In the statement, JCRC extends strong support for civil liberties, recognizes the need for a more secure border, and urges the U.S. Congress to immediately consider comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform. 

The statement says, in part, “As members of the Jewish community who have been considered ‘strangers’ throughout history, we know well the fear of living as ‘outsiders.’ The Torah (Hebrew Bible) states that we ‘shall have one law for the stranger and the citizen alike’ (Leviticus 24:22), and tells us seventeen distinct times to ‘Love the stranger.’ In addition, we are commanded to establish a fair justice system and to ‘judge the people with righteous justice’ (Deuteronomy 16:12).” 

The JCRC statement notes that these Torah passages “provide great relevance with respect to the rights of immigrants.” 

“With this law,” the statement continues, “local law enforcement officers who have ‘reasonable suspicion’ about a person’s immigration status are required to demand immigration papers. We are concerned that this will create distrust between local law enforcement and those they are sworn to serve and protect. We are also concerned that members of the immigrant and Latino communities, both legal citizens and non-citizens, will be reluctant to report crimes or to cooperate with local law enforcement” out of fear of discrimination or separation from their families.

Arizona rabbis have also spoken out against the new law. Citing the mandates of their “Jewish moral and American civic traditions,” 13 Reform rabbis sent a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer May 7 urging her to repeal SB 1070.

“This inhumane and retrogressive [law] threatens the rights of all Arizona residents by making failure to carry identification into a crime and leaving the entire population vulnerable to police questioning,” the letter said. Tucson rabbis Helen Cohn of Congregation M’kor Hayim, Samuel M. Cohon of Temple Emanu-El, Shafir Lobb of Congregation Ner Tamid, Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash, and Benjamin Sharff of Temple Emanu-El signed the letter along with eight Reform rabbis from the Phoenix area.

“Granting local police the power to determine what constitutes suspicious legal status is an affront to American values of justice and our historic status as a nation of immigrants,” noted the rabbis. “The [law] places law enforcement in an untenable situation, while [also] having an adverse affect on the state’s economy.

“We do not question your intention to protect people from racial profiling,” they told Brewer. “However, we know from our own historical experience, that this is a slippery slope, to say the least.”

Agreeing that “our immigration system is broken,” the rabbis said the law “moves us in the wrong direction. … We should, instead, focus our energy on comprehensive reform of our immigration system.”