Since its founding, the United States has been a nation of immigrants. Most people hoping to immigrate to the United States do so for fundamental reasons: to provide a better life for themselves and their families, to reunite with loved ones, or to escape persecution in their home countries.  Yet current U.S. immigration policy is broken. Major backlogs in the family-based immigration system force U.S. citizens and non-citizens to wait many years to reunite with family members who wish to come here. The number of employment-based visas available is far too small to meet employer demands for work.  Partly as a result, nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants (meaning people who have come here without proper visas or who have overstayed their visa) currently live in the United States.  In addition to the humanitarian issues these problems create, our nation’s security is weaker when so many people live in the shadows of society and are reluctant to work with law enforcement agencies because of fear of deportation.

Of the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country seeking the opportunity to earn citizenship, perhaps the most vulnerable group is teenagers. Each year, about 65,000 students raised in the United States who were brought to this country by undocumented parents, graduate from high school. They are young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives and deserve the opportunity to continue on to college and contribute to the country they call home. However, because they lack legal status, they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of deportation. Nearly 146,000 New York youth have been educated in public schools but remain ineligible for financial aid under federal and state law. Of the more than 4,500 undocumented students in New York who graduate from high schools around the state each year, only 5-10% pursue a college degree because of tremendous financial hardship.

The New York DREAM Act (A.2597/S.2378) seeks to address the situation faced by young people who were brought to the United States years ago as undocumented immigrant children and who have grown up in New York, stayed in school and kept out of trouble. Our federal immigration law currently has no mechanism to consider the special circumstances of such students. The New York DREAM Act would allow undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements to access scholarships and state financial aid for higher education. It would also allow these students to access to tuition savings accounts and would establish a Dream Fund Commission for private scholarships. The New York DREAM Act does not address the issue of citizenship—granting citizenship falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government.


Reform Jewish Values

Since its creation in 1873, the Union for Reform Judaism has spoken out repeatedly in support of a generous, fair and non-discriminatory immigration policy. Our people were and continue to be immigrants to the United States and to Canada. We are especially aware that open immigration policies have benefited Jews fleeing persecution and economic hardship, and we remember painfully the times when these policies have been unfairly restrictive. Having struggled to adjust to a society that did not always welcome our arrival, we appreciate the problems faced by today’s immigrants as well as the difficulties attributable to illegal immigration.

Furthermore, our faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Leviticus 19:33-34 reminds us, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In keeping with our tradition, the Union for Reform Judaism resolved to “support a fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory legal immigration policy for the United States, consistent with its national interest [Immigration 1989].” At the 2007 Biennial, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a resolution calling for comprehensive immigration reform because it is the most realistic and humane solution to this escalating crisis.


Legislative Update

The New York DREAM Act (A.2597/S.2378) was introduced by Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Queens) and Senator Jose Peralta (D-Queens). New York is just one of 16 states that makes in-state tuition available to undocumented students. The New York DREAM Act goes a step further and would increase access for undocumented students in New York to public financial assistance for college and create a Dream Fund to finance other scholarships. The New York DREAM Act passed the Assembly in May 2013 by a 90-48 margin, but never reached the floor of the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reiterated his support for the New York DREAM Act in January 2014 and named it as a top priority for his chamber. The legislation was referred to the Senate Education Committee and awaits a committee assignment in the Assembly.

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