NEW YORK - The introduction of the RAISE act, an immigration reform proposal whose authors tout as a plan to “spur economic growth and raise working Americans’ wages by giving priority to the best-skilled immigrants from around the world and reducing overall immigration by half,” has raised no shortage of discussion and heated debate nationwide.
A day after its introduction by two Republican Senators and a warm welcome from the White House, those with years of experience dealing with immigration issues faced by the Jewish community expressed a universal concern over the potential fallout of the bill, but with markedly differing levels of alarm as to its practical effects on the community and a mixed reaction over its potential benefits.
The areas that raised the greatest level of apprehension were the proposed prioritizing of immediate family and elimination of “certain categories of extended and adult family members.” While the bill is clear that spouses and minor children will be unaffected, it seems to create an impasse for naturalized children who want to bring aging parents to the United States.
“It’s shocking,” said immigration attorney David Grunblatt, who deals with many cases within the Orthodox community and is a regular consultant for the Agudath Israel of America on these issues.
“This means that if I have an 85-year-old mother in England and I want to bring her to the U.S. to care for her, she’ll be left in limbo with a ‘temporary’ status,” he told Hamodia. “Now getting a green card for a parent is a very straightforward process, I get calls from frum families every year about it.”
While his chief worry was for the potential effects on parents in need of care, Mr. Grunblatt said that for siblings and other relatives cuts to the present family reunification system is “bad for [Jews] since we are a global community.”
Joseph Rose, a partner in a New York immigration law firm, was skeptical that limits on bringing parents would be included in final drafts of legislation — should the process get that far, however he said that even now trying to get siblings or other relatives into the country is extremely challenging.
“When I get a call now from someone who wants to bring over a brother or sister, I tell them, ‘Do you want to wait 50 years?’ That’s what it can take. It’s hard to believe this would make things any worse,” he told Hamodia.
Rabbi Avraham Y. Heschel, chizuk columnist for Inyan Magazine, noted that for individuals going through a time of challenge, the support system provided by close relatives who live locally is vital. He expressed concern about how the proposed changes would affect some of the cases he is personally acquainted with.
“Many members of our community have parents who are not U.S. citizens and who are currently residing in Europe or Eretz Yisrael. In some cases, the parent or parents can no longer live on their own, and therefore want to come here. In others, it is a widow, widower, divorcee or someone going through a medical crisis, and their parents living abroad are prepared to move here to be there for their children or sibling in their time of need.
“Then there are those who move here because they are in need of specialized medical care that is only available in the United States. Will this proposed regulation slam the door on them in their time of need? I think this is something our community askanim must take seriously.”
A particularly emotional topic, especially in the Jewish community, is the plan to place a cap on the number of immigrants who will be admitted per year on refugee status.
Rabbi David Neiderman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, who has been heavily involved in immigration cases from Iran, Yemen and many other locations under the auspices of Rav Tov Committee to Aid New Immigrants, said the effects could be “very serious.”
“Even now, it’s very hard to get Yidden out of Iran, and in general, we must remember where we came from — we are a nation of refugees, we have a history of vulnerability and any cut to helping refugees could potential end up hurting us,” he told Hamodia.
Israel Rose, brother and partner in the law firm of Joseph Rose, has extensive experience in dealing with Jewish refugee cases, especially from the Former Soviet Union. He said that for many years now, Jewish refugee cases have been “very infrequent.”
“The Jews that wanted to come from Soviet countries and Iran, Syria, are basically here already,” he said. “You get one here and there, but most of these people are not fleeing anymore, I don’t see the refugee issue having a major impact on the situation as it is now.”
Mr. Grunblatt feared that the system would greatly impede the many Jews who enter the country as “religious workers,” such as Rabbanim, mechanchim and workers in the kashrus industry.
“A Rosh Yeshivah might be brilliant, but if he does not speak English or have a degree, he could end up very low on their spectrum,” he said.
Joseph Rose, who regularly handles many religious worker cases, was not concerned.
“I don’t think it’s a category that they would end up cutting off,” he said. “As far as our community is concerned, a shochet, a mashgiach or a Rebbi, for that matter, is someone with very specific and marketable skills that cannot be done by any Tom, Dick and Harry. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t do well in a merit system.”
Mr. Rose was optimistic that a merit “not only makes sense … but might make it easier for people.”
“I’ve had clients give up on America and go to Canada where they got in based on skills they had,” he said.
Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Consulting and Marketing, has extensive experience in employment issues facing the Orthodox community. He took a cautious position as to whether the bill could improve the economic condition of frum job seekers.
“It’s not cut and dried,” he told Hamodia. “A lot of Jews used to have these [lower skill] jobs, but a frum person has a lot higher cost of living than he did then and I don’t think that many people could support their family and pay yeshivah tuition on what these jobs pay now. If these positions are going to be attractive, they have to offer more than government assistance programs do, before we talk about pushing people into them.”
Mr. Lubinsky feared that, in reality, a shortage of immigrant labor could lead to shortages of labor for low-skill positions, driving prices and the cost of living even higher.
“We have to be very careful and see if we have the replacement labor and if this would really work for our community before we support it,” he said.