As legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws appears increasingly likely to pass the U.S. Senate, the Philadelphia Jewish Coalition on Immigration is working to ensure that the bill also makes headway in the House of Representatives.
The coalition, which includes the region’s major Jewish organizations such as HIAS Pennsylvania and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, sent letters on Monday to Pennsylvania’s senators, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey, urging the lawmakers to support the legislation that provides undocumented immigrants a pathway to legal resident status. The legislation moved closer to passage that evening when the Senate voted on an amendment to the bill to spend about $40 billion over the next decade on border security. Casey voted for the measure, which received a 67-27 vote; Toomey voted against it.
The coalition letter, which received support from more than 80 leaders in the local Jewish community, told the senators that “we need to enact laws that reflect the reality that immigration fuels our economy; immigrants bring demand for products and services and fill labor needs.”
Toomey voted against the amendment because it “does not solve the fundamental problem of our current immigration policy,” he said in a statement following the vote, adding that he does not expect to support the immigration reform bill.
“Absent substantive changes — which do not appear possible in the Senate at this point — I am unlikely to support the underlying bill,” the statement read.
The bill was drafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators and, with strong support from both parties, could pass the Senate before the July 4th recess.
JCRC director Adam Kessler cited the Jewish community’s longtime efforts to help immigrants in explaining the coalition’s support for the bill.
“As much as there can be a consensus on any issue, the Jewish community supports providing a pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, Kessler said.
But Philippe Weisz, managing attorney for HIAS, said there is concern over the “trajectory of amendments,” such as the Corker-Hoeven plan to increase border security, which the Senate voted to include on Monday. The measure requires that a $3.2 billion high-tech-border surveillance plan and other changes to security be implemented before any undocumented immigrant can become a legal permanent resident and receive a green card.
Weisz said that could leave immigrants in a limbo status as they wait for the government to invest in increased security. He also said concern exists among advocates for immigrant reform about greater spending on security and the increased militarization of the United States’ southern border because it could have an adverse effect on nearby communities and immigrants’ civil rights.
The attorney said he remains hopeful that a bill will pass “that makes serious progress” for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, even if it is imperfect.
He said the coalition is preparing to meet with House members should the bill pass the Senate to try and secure swing votes and ensure that the legislation does not “stray any further from what we deem an acceptable bill for the immigrant community.”