This afternoon I was honored to speak at an event on immigration reform put together by Nuns on the Bus. There immigrants, clergy, and advocates of reform spoke to an interfaith audience. These are the words I delivered:
I am an immigrant.
Sure, I was born in the US. My parents were born in the US. Even my grandparents were born in the US, and my grandfathers were both Army vets.
Yet, I am an immigrant.
Why? Because we are all immigrants. Almost all of us have ancestors who came to the land of America in search of something—be it opportunity, equality, or to run from persecution.
I am an immigrant, just like my ancestors were immigrants—from Abraham who left his home in search of his Promised Land, to my great-grandparents who came to America in search of opportunity and a land without persecution.
And I wonder if I would be here today if America hadn’t taken them in. I wonder if my family, like so many others, would have been murdered in the Holocaust. Although many Jews were not so lucky, I was fortunate in that my ancestors were allowed into the US.
Today the US turns away millions of people a year—people like us, in search of opportunity, in search of equality, refuge, a better life. People who are already working here as teachers and clergy and housekeepers and nannies.
And when some of them are denied access to legal immigration, they become undocumented workers—living in fear of deportation, without the same rights to basic labor laws such as minimum wage or safe working conditions. If they are injured on the job, or denied their rightful wages they have little if any recourse.
These are our brothers, our sisters. These are people who live next door, who work to make America a better place to live, who pay taxes and contribute to society. Or who are desperately trying to pull themselves up by their boot straps when everything around them is pulling them down.
Dare we be like Cain who said “I am not my brothers keeper?” Dare we turn a blind eye while our brother is suffering?
Or will we follow the words of Leviticus: “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall do them no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers….”
The words of Emma Lazarus are a moment of pride for the United States, words forever written on the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
But I leave you with a question, posed by my colleague, Rabbi Esther Lederman, “What would the statue of liberty say today?”
We are our brothers’ keepers. That is why we need comprehensive immigration reform today.
Please speak up for your brothers by writing to Congressman Hanna here.