Friday, April 14, 2006

Passover Thoughts on Immigration

We are now a couple of days into the Jewish holiday of Passover. This is not a holiday for going to temple, rather it is celebrated in the home, where we conduct our own ceremony over dinner (it wouldn't be a Jewish holiday unless food played a role, somehow). Central to that is the retelling of the story of the Exodus, when Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt.

As part of that, we are instructed that each generation is to tell the story as if they were the ones being led out of slavery and into freedom. I've been thinking about what that means, and how that attitude of connection with the oppressed has always informed my politics.

Eric Schneiderman, a State Senator from New York, has obviously been thinking about that as well. He's written an op-ed entitled Passover Informs Immigration Debate in which he recalls the commandment that "You shall not oppress the stranger; you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Relating that to the current debate on immigration policy, Senator Schneiderman asks:
Can we honestly say to ourselves that we don't "wrong" the immigrants who are strangers in our land when we allow them to be paid less than minimum wage, or look the other way when contractors fail to provide safety equipment to workers doing dangerous jobs? Do we not "oppress" when we tear apart families? When we detain or deport people without the due process that our own citizens would expect if they were faced with losing their homes or their liberty? The Jews are commanded over and over to welcome the stranger, but the House of Representatives has passed a bill, HR 4437, which would make it a crime to observe this commandment by making it a felony to provide assistance of any kind to an undocumented immigrant.
As Senator Schneiderman points out, between fear of terrorism and our own economic woes, these are tough times to be welcoming. But, easy or not, welcoming the oppressed stranger is what it means to be a Jew, and to be an American.

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