Statement of HIAS Pennsylvania on The Senate Passage of the Immigration Bill

HIAS Pennsylvania appreciates the diligence and determination of the bi-partisan “Gang of 8” in presenting a wide-ranging immigration bill, S. 744, which passed the Senate today in a significant 68-32 vote.

According to Judith Bernstein-Baker, Executive Director of HIAS Pennsylvania, “The passage of the bill was a recognition that hard working immigrants contribute economically, socially and culturally to our nation. The vote is also a reflection of the dedicated work of a broad coalition of forces including leaders from immigrant communities, faith communities, business, labor and professional organizations. It is rare when such a diverse group of stakeholders come together to support a need to change the law. ” The increase in immigrants applying for citizenship and in voting is certainly a large factor in the willingness of the Senate to take on this issue, along with the brave public actions of immigrant youth known as Dreamers. Philippe Weisz, Esq., HIAS Pennsylvania’s Managing Attorney and co-chair of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Immigration Coalition commented, “we are heartened that over 80 leaders and rabbis from the Pennsylvania Jewish community signed a letter to Senators Casey and Toomey urging them to vote in favor of Senate Bill 744.” The vote from Pennsylvania was divided, with Senator Casey voting in favor and Senator Toomey voting in opposition to the bill.

HIAS Pennsylvania has worked with the Jewish and larger community to press for fair and needed immigration reform that provides meaningful pathways to citizenship for immigrants, that keeps immigrant and refugee families together and provides legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S. We applaud the fact that S. 744 has provisions for increased protection for asylum seekers and refugees, and salute HIAS national for the strong role it played in advocating for these provisions. Subtitle D of S. 744 that contains these protections was retitled as the Frank R. Lautenberg Asylum and Refugee Reform Act to honor the late Senator Lautenberg’s leadership in protecting Jews, religious minorities and others who experienced persecution and oppression.

At the same time we are gravely concerned with the huge amounts of taxpayer money that will be channeled into enforcement on the border. As former President Clinton noted recently when he spoke in Philadelphia, this militarization of the border comes at a time when enforcement is at an all time high and when one study estimates there are more Mexican nationals leaving the U.S. than entering. It also can lead to increased civil rights violations in border communities. The over $40 billion dollars in additional spending is bad immigration policy and ineffective use of tax payer funds. 

HIAS Pennsylvania will continue to work with our community and others to promote fairness for immigrants as the legislative process now moves to the House of Representatives.

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