Jewish groups praise, question high court’s immigration ruling

Jewish groups praise, question high court’s immigration ruling

WASHINGTON – Most Jewish groups that have weighed in on Arizona’s controversial immigration law thought that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to repeal three of the law’s four parts was promising, but they were concerned with the decision that law enforcement officials still would be allowed to check the legal immigration status of people they detain.

The three provisions that the high court invalidated on Monday authorized police to arrest illegal immigrants without warrant if there was probable cause that they committed an offense that made them eligible for deportation; made it an Arizona state crime for immigrants not to carry registration papers or some sort of government identification; and forbade immigrants unauthorized to work in the country to apply, solicit, or perform work.

Michael Wildes, a former mayor of Englewood who is also an immigration lawyer, said that the overall effect of the decision would be positive, “although we still have a broken immigration system,” he said. The decision “has had a calming effect on many of the immigrants in the North Jersey area,” who had feared that if all the provisions had passed, eventually “similar laws would be passed in New Jersey, and eventually the police would be given a Gestapo-like power to stop people.” The decision was good, he said, because “the government has returned to the position it’s had for years, that immigration is federal, not to be tampered with by the states.”

Many immigrants are Jewish, according to Wildes’ father, Leon Wildes, also an immigration lawyer. “They come from Israel, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Switzerland, Belgium, France – they come from strong Jewish communities throughout the diaspora. Some of them have come here and overstayed. And the community has its fair share of children. Some of the public and private schools in the area take them in, and others don’t.”

Michael Wildes pointed out that immigrants’ attention has been “galvanized by President Obama’s decision last week about the Dream Act,” which will offer illegal immigrants brought to this country as children a possible path to legal residence. “There are scores of Jewish students who are imperiled,” he said, just as are many thousands of others. Jews are “people of the passport,” and as such they are “just as vulnerable as anyone else.”

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was among the groups that welcomed the repeals but had reservations about the court’s decision.

“Though we view the positive part of this ruling as another step in the advancement of immigrant rights – forwarded recently by President Obama’s executive order halting deportations of Dream Act eligible individuals – we remain extremely concerned about the potential for racial profiling as a result of today’s decision,” Mark Hetfield, the interim president and CEO of HIAS, said.

The law, passed in April 2010, was meant primarily to deal with illegal immigrants coming from Mexico, its proponents said when it was passed. They also noted that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had issued an executive order establishing a training program on how to avoid racial profiling when implementing the new rules.

In April, HIAS coordinated a letter to Brewer, a Republican, and also joined more than 100 other faith-based organizations and civil rights groups in submitting an amicus brief that urged the Supreme Court to strike down Arizona’s law.

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman and national chair Robert Sugarman called the ruling a “mixed outcome.”

“One of our primary concerns has been that Arizona’s law would exacerbate fear in immigrant communities and, in particular, make victims and witnesses of hate crimes reluctant to speak with police,” they wrote.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, noted that the RAC welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn most provisions in the law but called on Arizona to urge caution on the remaining part.

“We urge Arizona and the lower courts to endorse the principle that all women, men and children deserve equal protection under the law, as appearance offers no grounds on which to assume the legal status of an individual,” Saperstein wrote. “Engaging in racial profiling only jeopardizes the safety of entire communities, as members of immigrant communities fearful of being profiled are discouraged from cooperating with law enforcement on issues.”

Nancy Kaufman, the CEO of the National Council for Jewish Women, wrote that the high court’s ruling “is a welcome step toward ending the efforts by state legislatures to superimpose their own vindictive legislative regime on federal immigration law.”

JTA Wire Service contributed to this report

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