THE BLOG
09/11/2013 09:52 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Immigration Reform Now: The Intersection of Religion, American Political Will and Reason

We are an immigration nation, a land of refuge and opportunity. From the earliest settlers to today, we have strived to live up to the promise that anybody can come here, build a life and succeed. This openness is not just based on some ethereal notion of right and wrong; it is rooted in the idea that a great nation is vibrant and dynamic. Each successive generation of immigrants has brought energy and entrepreneurism to our shores and enriched our culture.

Those who leave their homes and adopt the United States are seekers and strivers. They come here to make a better life for themselves and their families, and in so doing, they make us all better.

Once we let that ethos of openness go -- and I fear we are in danger of doing that -- we will doom our nation to stagnation. Those nations which built walls became containers for the status quo.

Rather, our immigration laws must accomplish two things: uphold the promise of our heritage and work to meet the economic demands of today. Unfortunately our immigration laws and policies are broken. Ask employers, border hawks or those living in the shadows, longing for their families and they'll all tell you: our system is dysfunctional.

Today, 11 million men, women, and children are living in the United States without legal documentation. They form the backbone of businesses throughout the United States and without them, our slowly growing economy would collapse. They come here for opportunity but we hold them in a tank of fragility and uncertainty. This is a caustic recipe where workers fear for their lives and livelihoods without the protection of laws and basic human dignity.

Should we have built stronger immigration protections in decades past? Perhaps yes, but today we must confront the reality of this moment. The only reasonable course of action is to offer these aspiring Americans, integral to our national welfare, a chance to integrate fully into our society and not live in fear of those who threaten them with reporting and deportation. A path to earned citizenship is the only reasonable way to fix this problem and now is time for action.

For the first time in years, we have a ripe political moment for progress. The bipartisan immigration reform bill put forward by the Gang of Eight was passed by a solid majority in the Senate. This strong, fair, compromise legislation represents an historic opportunity to restore our national heritage and write the next chapter for our immigration nation. This bill deserves our support. Now that the House of Representatives has returned to Washington, they too should approve a comprehensive immigration reform plan.

Jewish biblical mandates to love and treat the stranger humanely are complemented by our history as a people. We know the pain of vulnerability and oppression. We know the experience of isolation and the eternal hope for freedom, justice and opportunity. Years may pass until we have another moment like this one, and now that they are back from the August recess, our legislators should feel the power of our persuasion and passion.

Across race, religion, gender and geography, the American dream holds us all together. We believe that even the most disadvantaged can come to this country and thrive. Keeping the undocumented in the shadows cuts against our founding principles and will prevent the prosperity and growth that have made us a great nation. America is a nation of ideals and we should serve as a model for the rest of the world on how to live up to our values and pursue justice. Our legislators have a critical choice to make.

With a sustained will, we can bring millions out of the shadows to contribute, thrive and live the American dream. This is a bipartisan cause. It is an historic moment. And it is time to act.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. For more information and updates, visit here and follow @theJCPA on Twitter.

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