Local | Passover

Lawyers see Passover, immigration link

Fred Klein (right) with Lievin Niyongabo at the Tucson's International Rescue Committee office. An immigrant from Burundi, Niyongabo is an Americorps VISTA volunteer at the IRC and also works as a caregiver. He was a university student in Namibia when his family got permission to resettle in the United States and plans to resume his studies. (Courtesy Fred Klein)

Passover is the time of freedom. We eat matzah, the bread of affliction, we eat bitter herbs and dip karpas (vegetables) in salt water to recall our suffering and tears. We eat charoset, made with ground almonds, cinnamon and wine to recall the mortar used by Jewish slaves to make bricks in Egypt. But charoset also contains apples for sweetness, encouraging us to believe in the possibility of a brighter future. The seder leads us to discover our legacy of freedom. And it provides  an opportunity to focus on welcoming immigrants — the strangers in our midst – just as we were strangers in Egypt.

The Torah provides several teachings relevant to immigrants, but particularly at Passover we recall the following: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) “When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I the Eternal am your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Gloria Goldman and Maurice (Mo) Goldman (Courtesy Mo Goldman)

Tucson immigration lawyers Fred Klein and Maurice (Mo) Goldman say that working for freedom for others, acting with kindness and welcoming the stranger is gratifying work. Both say that being Jewish was a factor in deciding to specialize in immigration law.

“Many Jews came here as refugees fleeing from persecution,” says Klein. “My grandparents worked to rescue family members from Europe during WWII.” Klein says he was inspired to help refugees during the late 1970s and ’80s when there was a refugee crisis in Indochina. The area came under communist rule and many people fled for their lives, including people who had worked with Americans in Indochina. When Thailand was inundated with refugees they forced many of them to go back to Cambodia.

“This brought to mind the fact that more than 900 Jewish refugees aboard the German liner, St. Louis, were turned away from both Cuba and the U.S. in 1939,” says Klein. The ship returned to Europe where several countries took in refugees, but 532 people were trapped in Western Europe after the German invasion. Nearly half of them lost their lives.

Klein and his wife, Patricia, became involved in refugee resettlement in Tucson. They helped individuals and families with setting up a household, learning English, finding work, enrolling in school and getting medical care. From 1984 to 2004, Klein held positions directing refugee resettlement in Tucson for Catholic Community Services, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Episcopal Community Services and Lutheran Social Ministry of the Southwest. The Kleins took into their home a 20-year-old, Henry So, who had fled from Cambodia.  He lived with them for 10 years, eventually obtaining a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona and becoming a civil engineer for the U.S. Navy. “He is still part of our family,” says Klein.

“Passover enables us to preserve our religious beliefs and family traditions and to recall that Jews have carried out the seder even in secret during times of persecution such as the Spanish Inquisition,” says Klein. He met immigrants from the Soviet Union who said that matzah tasted so good because they never had it before coming to the United States. “The Passover story allows us to celebrate the United States as a haven for people; it embodies the ideals that were used in forming this country,” he says.

Goldman says his family history was the inspiration for specializing in immigration law. His mother, Gloria, is the child of Holocaust survivors, and she came as a refugee from Germany with her parents who were liberated from concentration camps.

“I grew up learning about the horrible conditions that my grandparents endured in the 1940s,” says Goldman. “My mother and her parents came to the United States with not much more than their clothing. My grandparents worked hard so that my mother could have more opportunities, and in turn my parents worked hard so I could get a good education and have a good life.”

Goldman worked during summers in his mother’s law office, (which opened in Tucson in 1991), while he pursued a journalism degree at Syracuse University. He saw people from other countries who were trying to find safety and build a better life. “Practicing immigration law has a public service aspect and I realized I could help people through the process,” says Goldman.  He got a J.D./M.B.A. degree from Hofstra University on Long Island and opened his own immigration law practice in 2000 in New York. In 2005 he moved to Tucson and joined in a partnership with his mother, who also specializes in immigration law.

“We learn a lot from the Torah and from Passover about being strangers,” Goldman says.  “Throughout our history Jews have depended on others for help and survival, and we should be leaders in helping others.”

A lack of understanding regarding the issues, he says, has resulted in the negative attitudes that many Americans have toward immigrants.

“People need to be more cognizant of the approach to the immigration issues in our country,” says Goldman. “Most people do not understand how complicated the immigration laws are, and how the process works.”

Recent bans on refugees entering our country are based on misleading information, according to both lawyers. People fleeing persecution because of race, religion, social group or political opinion are among the most highly vetted potential immigrants. The process can take years and people go through multiple background checks.

For immigrants who are not refugees, the legal route into the country also is very complicated and can take years. “The stringent immigration policies in our country pushes people to do things the wrong way, and is one reason why so many people enter the country without documentation,” says Goldman.

“We have a broken system that needs to be fixed,” says Klein. “There are even situations where people are in the country legally but for some reason don’t have the documents to prove it. Most of the immigrants are good people who contribute to this country, and those who think of them as criminals, [that] is so odious and ugly.”

Klein and Goldman say those who are concerned about the plight of immigrants can make donations or volunteer through several organizations. These include the International Rescue Committee, Refugee Focus, Catholic Social Services, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, the National Immigration Law Center and HIAS.  Goldman said that HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), a 135-year-old organization that helps refugees, helped his grandparents and his mother.

“We are not just a one type fits all society,” says Goldman. “All of the different religions, cultures, ethnicities make our country unique. We can look at the U.S. and say we are dynamic because of our differences and that is what makes our country great.”

Korene Charnofsky Cohen is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.