On Illegal Immigration

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

I have no expertise on the subject of illegal immigration except perhaps one - the moral issue. No doubt there are monetary, political, as well as assimilation and cultural issues that are part of this problem. However, for me the basic moral underpinnings are the most important. To provide individuals with rewards for violation of our country’s laws sets a terrible precedent for our legal system, the results of which will no doubt be tragic. For an individual to waive the banner of human rights simply for self-aggrandizement and not be confronted by others is a tragedy.

We are not dealing with poverty stricken individuals who are daily watching their children succumb to malnutrition. Mexico has yet to appeal to the United States for emergency food and aid to care for a starving population. Were this the case, my sense of morality would prompt me to advocate providing all that is required to alleviate the suffering of the Mexican people. And while I’m confident life for the average Mexican citizen is not as comfortable as it is for the average American citizen, a reality that equally applies to citizens of most other countries across the globe as well, those who do cross the border illegally from Mexico utilizing the services of “coyotes”, do pay these dealers in human cargo considerable sums of money for that passage.

I am a graduate of the New York City Public School system. I was taught that to be part of a free and democratic society, to enjoy the privileges of citizenship, you must not only respect the law but uphold the law and, when necessary, place your life at risk to protect the freedoms that very law affords yourself and your loved ones. My classmates and I were taught that illegal behavior is anti-social and therefore not to be rewarded but rather punished as it impinges upon the rights of others and contributes to the decline of society as a whole. I suspect millions upon millions of Americans were taught this same fundamental principle of our American civilization. It finds its roots in the very bedrock of our American moral code, the Judeo-Christian ethic. Our Jewish Sages stated it succinctly in the Talmud, “The law of the land is the law.”

Most members of my Congregation are legal immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They treasure their American citizenship when, after a number of years in this country, they finally attain it. On the average they waited five to ten years before they could immigrate to the United States. Government persecution of adherents of the Jewish religion in the former Soviet Union meant that each day they waited presented the possibility of imprisonment, exile to the Gulag or worse. Beginning the emigration process put an individual in harm’s way. Survivors of the European Holocaust, individuals who took up arms to fight Nazi Germany and its allies as members of the Soviet armed forces, a good many battle scared heroes and heroines of World War II, they were nevertheless compelled to leave the Soviet Union to secure their human rights here in the United States.

I discussed the illegal immigration problem with them. Their general response was the same. If someone comes to the United States illegally, knowingly violating American law, why would anyone expect this same person to then respect the laws of the United States? After all, he wasn’t persecuted in Mexico. He simply is unwilling to exercise his responsibility of citizenship in his homeland, seeking a better life for himself elsewhere. He came to the United States selfishly motivated to improve his own economic situation, completely ignoring the general economic problems of his fellow citizens in Mexico and the laws of the United States.

One cannot help but draw a comparison between illegal immigrants from Mexico and the hundreds of thousands in Darfur currently facing what can only be described as a modern day Holocaust, physically unable, as they cannot swim or raft across the Atlantic ocean nor purchase illegal passage, to cross our border for asylum literally to save their lives and the lives of their families. When members of the Latino community in Chicago mounted a major rally on behalf of the “human rights” of illegal immigrants a while ago, that very same day but blocks from their rally was another rally on behalf of the untold numbers of suffering individuals in Darfur. The Darfur rally began about the time the immigrant rally ended. Yet shockingly, few, if any, individuals attending the immigrant rally, felt it important to stand up for those in Darfur! This indifference to the human rights of others seems to indicate that the so called “human rights” issue of illegal immigrants is but a smoke screen for self aggrandizement. One must ask why the organizers of the immigrant rally, as well as its participants, were not motivated by their passion for human rights to ensure that the tens of thousands attending their rally at its completion walked but a few blocks to stand up for the human rights of those in Darfur; for those being murdered, tortured, maimed and raped?

By their disdain for our law, by their selfishness in not seeking economic relief for themselves and their countrymen at home through the democratic process by assuming their responsibility of citizenship and by their demonstrated indifference to the suffering of others, they do not merit accommodation. Rather, we should enforce our current laws as best we can and hopefully through strengthening our borders curtail their further violation. By denying illegal immigrants accommodation they may come to realize that it would be in their best interest, appropriate and above all, the moral imperative in this situation to return to Mexico and accept their responsibility of citizenship working toward the improvement of the quality of life in their homeland for themselves and their fellow citizens.