The Social Justice Vision at Stephen S. Wise Temple

Our congregation will see Social Justice as a calling that derives from our sense of God and the imperative of Jewish Tradition. The Stephen S. Wise Temple community will use our influence, power and compassion to be a force for positive, meaningful and effective change in the quality of life on behalf of all the citizens of Los Angeles and the world.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Factions in school debate need a time-out

Email Steve Lopez, let's hear the voices of parents speaking out for constructive solutions!  

Factions in school debate need a time-out

Mayor Villaraigosa, L.A. Unified and the teachers union need to start acting like adults when it comes to watching out for students' needs.

Steve Lopez
5:10 PM PST, December 18, 2010

Pardon me, kids, but is it too much to ask that teachers union representatives, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. Unified School District officials begin acting like adults?

Here we are, nearly certain to see more budget cuts and layoffs at schools in the spring — and possibly for years to come — and I'm not hearing anyone talk seriously about how to proceed with the least amount of damage to the children.

We've got Villaraigosa attacking United Teachers Los Angeles for beating back proposed reforms.

We've got UTLA officials flat-out refusing to give an inch on reforms that are being adopted throughout the country.

And we've got school board members whose only idea of how to deal with the looming crisis is to try to raise a few measly bucks by selling branding rights to corporations. Don't be surprised if your child's graduation ceremony is held in Chevron Auditorium at Halliburton High.

Thanks, but no thanks. Can't we preserve what little innocence is left in our children, rather than remind them we don't value their education enough to support it without corporate marketing campaigns?

If the school board wanted to do something productive about corporate support, it would take the lead in ending the huge property tax advantage that corporations enjoy in California. Commercial property got the same benefits from Proposition 13 as residential property did. But because their land doesn't change hands as often, many big businesses in the state pay property taxes based on a fraction of the true value.

Every time I mention Prop. 13, I get buried under complaints from people claiming they were about to be taxed out of their homes before the tax-cutting proposition was passed in 1978. Yes, tax relief was needed for thousands of Californians. But it didn't need to be as drastic as it was, and corporations shouldn't have gotten the same deal.

With California now ranked 47th in the nation in funding per student, it's time for school boards across the state to tell the incoming governor to push for a "split roll" that would differentiate between homeowners and corporate landowners. Jerry Brown has been warning of fiscal disaster that's worse than he imagined, and he's asking the right questions: What do we value and want to pay for, and how do we intend to pay for it?

Whatever the answers, I'm guessing they won't come soon enough to head off another round of layoffs in L.A. Unified and beyond. And that means that more teachers could be let go regardless of their ability in the classroom, based on nothing but years of service.

Teachers are right: They're made out to be the villains in the current national conversation on public education, when, in fact, parents, students, principals, administrators and money are all part of both the problem and the solution.

Halfway through my daughter's third year in a terrific L.A. Unified public school, I've got a great appreciation of teachers. The range of student abilities and behavior issues in classrooms is staggering, and a tough job is made harder as support services are stripped away one after another.

But just as principals and administrators are not created equal, neither are teachers, as UTLA would have you believe. It seems to me they all would benefit from a system that examines why certain teachers are better at classroom management or teaching fifth-grade math and then rewards them by bumping up their pay, while giving more training to those who need it.

I've heard all the arguments against the value-added system in which teachers are graded on their students' test score improvements, and they have some merit: there are lots of variables in a classroom, test scores don't necessarily measure learning and value-added isn't perfect.

But nobody said it is. LAUSD has proposed that just 30% of a teacher's evaluation be based on test scores.

UTLA's position?

Test scores shouldn't go into evaluations at all.

End of discussion.

Really? Couldn't tests account for a mere 10% to 20% of an evaluation?

No, UTLA Treasurer David Goldberg told me, repeating UTLA President A.J. Duffy's unwavering insistence that there's no evidence test scores are a credible tool.

There's no evidence kids are benefiting from the inability of the grownups to compromise. Ted Mitchell, chair of the state Board of Education, said the two sides ought to be able to find some mutually beneficial common ground. If the UTLA doesn't bend a bit, he said, "it's going to be the laggard" as other districts enjoy the extra freedoms and money tied to reform.

UTLA has to do something other than say "no." It should long ago have come up with a better evaluation system to avoid being force-fed one.

Goldberg said the union has been working on a better system, and he referred me to the union's 10-point policy statement on the subject.

Frankly, I wasn't impressed. The statement is high on general beliefs and short on practical details.

OK, parents, teachers, readers, taxpayers and citizens of the world, I've got a question for you:

Would you support a system in which 20% of a teacher's evaluation is based on test scores, 80% is based on peer review by teachers and administrators, those who score the highest get raises, those who score the lowest get training, principals get evaluated as vigorously and as often as teachers, and layoffs, when necessary, are based on a combination of seniority and performance?

Let me know what you think, and I'll make sure the district and the union hear what you have to say.  --- [EMAIL Steve Lopez, click the link below.  Let him know that you are from Stephen S. Wise or a parent's association at a school or both!]

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Waiting for Superman-- The Movement

Though there is certainly room for debate about the solutions offered by the "Waiting for Superman" documentary (are charter schools the "only" solution, for example?) the issues raised are relevant and worthy of a great deal of attention.  Even more significant, the documentary producers and directors see their film as a conversation starter and another resource for pushing this nation towards meaningful change.   Sign up for their newsletter, follow their blog, be engaged! 
Click here to go to the Waiting for Superman Web Site.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

George Skelton on California Schools

Getting an A in overcoming the odds

California schools are not as good as they should be, but they are significantly better than their reputation.

George Skelton
Capitol Journal
December 6, 2010
From Sacramento

Truth is, California's public schools never were all that great. And today, they're not nearly as crummy as critics claim.

In fact, they're pretty good, especially given all the problems of funding and diversity. They've always been pretty good — not exactly A-1, but not failures either.

With 1,000 districts, 9,900 schools and 6 million students — the largest K-12 system in the country — there is inescapably a scattering of winners and losers.

"We're not where we ought to be," acknowledges veteran education consultant John Mockler, a Capitol legend who wrote the complex school finance law, Proposition 98.

"But the 'California schools suck' industry is just full of it," he adds. "When these guys start talking about how California's schools used to be great and today they're going to hell in a hand basket, they're just wrong. Our students are making incredibly consistent academic progress."

Outgoing state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell says, "Student test scores have been up for eight years in a row. The achievement gap is narrowing. And that's what I'm proudest of."

The "achievement gap" is the difference between the higher test scores of whites and Asians versus the lower results of blacks and Latinos.

Mockler, a compulsive numbers-cruncher, says that the increase in black and Latino students taking algebra in the eighth grade and scoring "proficient" or "advanced" — the highest ratings — "is one of the most dramatic, positive academic changes in the history of education in this state and the nation."

I wince every time I hear some revisionist carry on about how California public schools used to be the envy of the universe and now they're not capable of teaching dogs to bark. I suspect that most of these people —the latest and loudest being Meg Whitman — never attended California schools.

I did, back in the so-called golden era after World War II. And I remember that whenever a new kid arrived from out of state, the newcomer always seemed to be way ahead of us, especially in reading.

My public schooling was in rural Ojai. It was basically cozy and comfortable. Some bright kids were teachers' pets and excelled. Some who needed encouragement and help got neither. Some of us were lucky enough to be inspired by just the right teacher or two.

The schools were good, not great. Can't believe they were the best in America.

Higher ed? That's a different story. Our excellent colleges and universities were proudly affordable and open to anyone with motivation and grades. They were a Californian's birthright. Today, they're shamefully pricey with limited space.

"We have more high school students eligible for college than ever," O'Connell says. "The bad news is we have fewer seats in college."

But this column is about California's improving elementary and high schools.

"Look at the data," Mockler urges.

For starters, one must realize that a fourth of K-12 students are English learners who go home and speak another language. "That makes it more difficult to learn," Mockler says.

Mockler has computed data comparing old test scores with the most recent. For example:

-- Seven years ago, 35% of all California students scored proficient or advanced in reading. This year, 52% did, a gain of 49%. For whites, the number rose from 53% to 69%. For Latinos, the figures doubled from 20% to 40%. For blacks, 22% to 39%.

-- During the same period, the number of math students scoring in the top two ranks rose from 35% to 48%, a 37% improvement. Whites improved from 47% to 59%; Latinos from 23% to 39% (up 70%) and blacks from 19% to 32% (68%).

-- There was a 176% increase in the number of Latinos taking eighth-grade algebra, and the percentage of these students testing in the top two ranks rose from 20 to 37. Among black eighth-graders, there was an 85% increase in algebra students, with the percentage achieving the highest rankings, rocketing from 17 to 41.

-- High school students are taking 60% more college-prep math and science courses than seven years ago, and the number testing proficient or advanced has doubled.

Credit a decade of reforms, mainly started by Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis: class-size reductions, tougher curriculum, higher standards and lots of testing.

Much of that is in jeopardy, however, because of program cutbacks as Sacramento attempts to fill a seemingly bottomless budget hole. Class-size reduction is practically history.

"It pains me to see larger class sizes," O'Connell says, noting that as a legislator he wrote the class-size law and Wilson found the money for it.

"We've seen a major disinvestment in public education the last few years. Schools are operating with $21 billion less than anticipated three years ago."

Here are some other Mockler data:

-- California was spending $825 less per student than the national average two years ago. And it's undoubtedly gotten worse, he says.

-- Forty years ago, California allotted 5.6% of its personal income to K-12 schools. As of 2008, that had fallen to 3.7%.

--The average American school has 34% more teachers, 40% more administrators and 75% more counselors per student than California does.

"If California education was a baseball team, we'd be playing the other states with six players and they'd have nine," Mockler says.

Still, California's public schools have been performing far better than anyone would think from listening to the catcalls of a cranky crowd.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Opportunity for More Learning about Value Added Evaluations

Click the title below to visit the KPCC web page. 

Making Better Teachers: the Fight Over "Value-Added" Evaluation
Thursday, November 11, 2010
6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Crawford Family Forum
474 S. Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105

Recent articles in the Los Angeles Times regarding “value-added” teacher assessments have generated a nationwide debate on how best to evaluate teachers. That debate has pitted President Obama’s Secretary of Education against teacher union leaders and many academics. AirTalk host Larry Mantle and guest experts debate the "value-added" teacher method of evaluating teachers. If not "value-added" then what is the best way to evaluate teachers and ultimately benefit the kids in the classroom? And what role should student performance play in assessing teacher performance?


Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. His pioneering analysis measuring teacher quality through student achievement forms the current research into the value-added of teachers and schools.

Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. From 1999 to 2002 he was the national education columnist of The New York Times. He is the author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right.

Report on WiseLA's Research on LAUSD School Reform

As we work to build our advocacy for LAUSD reform, we've had many research meetings.  Here are the people we met with which guided us towards our advocacy for Transparent Budgeting and Teacher Effectiveness Procedures: 
Michelle Windmueller, Principal, Selma Elementary
Leadership of Temple Isaiah Education Reform committee.
Drew Furedi and others from Taskforce for Teacher Effectiveness (LAUSD)
Julie Flappan and John Rodgers - IDEA (UCLA) The Institute for Democracy, Education, & Access
Saskia Pallais (Partnership for LA schools)
Leticia Garcia - Senator Gloria Romero's Education Specialist -
Tamar Galatzan, LAUSD Board Member
Peter Kuhns, ACCE - Aug 11th 10.
Antonia Viaragosa: Mayor's Listening Session on Education -
Steve Zimmer LAUSD Board Member
Yolie Flores, LAUSD Board Member

Clearly, we have surveyed a broad range of experts and their information has been invaluable and will guide us as we move forward.  Thanks to our committed LAUSD Education Reform Leadership Team for the commitment and thoughtfulness. 

On Sunday, October 10th we had our first Education Reform Forum.  Tamar Galatzan, Steve Zimmer, Drew Furedi, Marshal Tuck (form the Partnership for LA School), and Julie Flappan presented.  Nearly 200 people learned about their initiatives and passions and had the opportunity to ask questions about the work being done. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Waiting For Superman - See the movie become an advocate!

Find out more about Waiting for Superman and the issues that are addressed in the movie.  How can you become a partner with them in School Reform?  Click here

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

LAUSD Board moves to reform collective bargaining process to bring teacher workforce stability to local campuses

From the Office of Communications and Media Relations of LAUSD (June 15, 2010):
Resolution seeks flexibility in allowing reduction- in-force based on criteria other than seniority

(Los Angeles, CA) The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education today approved a resolution to ensure school site workforce stability and equal access to effective teachers for all students. The resolution was passed on a 4-1 vote with one abstention. The resolution, Protecting Equal Access and Opportunity for All Our Students, was introduced by LAUSD Board Vice President Yolie Flores and Board Member Tamar Galatzan.

The resolution calls for Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines to engage the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Public Counsel, the State Board of Education, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and other advocates to join the District in urging California lawmakers to immediately support legislative changes that would give school districts flexibility to protect equal access and educational opportunities for all students by allowing reductions-in-force based on criteria other than seniority.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that every student – in every one of our classrooms – is taught by an outstanding teacher,” said Board Vice President Flores. “To ensure school site stability and equal access to effective teachers, the District needs to be able to staff schools in a manner that minimizes the impact of seniority-based layoffs and simultaneously acknowledges the contributions of high quality teachers, regardless of their years of experience. Indeed, parents and students alike are asking that we find a way to make decisions based on whose teaching is the strongest, not on who’s been teaching the longest.”

The resolution also directs the superintendent to immediately develop a negotiations strategy to reform and improve all aspects of the collective bargaining agreement that may impede the ability to protect the stability of teaching staffs at all District schools. It further seeks to work and engage reform partners to revise and improve procedures affecting staffing at school sites.

"Providing a quality education to our students is not possible without the ability to keep our strongest teachers in the classroom," said LAUSD Boardmember Galatzan. "This resolution brings us a step closer to meeting that goal across the District."

During the last round of layoffs, a number of schools in the District had 50 percent or more of their teachers receiving reduction-in-force notices in 2009. These schools were often low performing with high percentages of low-income students. A large number of those teachers laid off were new, enthusiastic and effective teachers who are typically the drivers of high achievement and providers of a quality education for all students.

The recent preliminary injunction issued in the Reed v. LAUSD et al. lawsuit (it suspends budgetbased teacher layoffs at three District middle schools for the 2010-2011 school year only) is a lower court ruling. It is not binding authority that would allow the District to skip other schools this year or any District schools in the future.

Also, there is no settled legal authority under which the District may “skip” entire school sites under Education Code Section 44955. The statute permits deviation from a seniority-based layoff in only two circumstances: 1) where less senior teachers have special training or experience that more senior teachers do not have, and 2) when a constitutional violation has been identified and skipping is needed in order to maintain or achieve compliance.

The resolution also calls for the District to do everything it can to provide equal educational opportunities to students attending LAUSD schools, encourage local staffing control that focus on quality recruitment and retention of classified and certificated personnel, and pursue opportunities to amend the current collective bargaining agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). This will allow schools the ability to staff and maintain optimum stability in the best interest of the students’ instructional program.

Commenting on the Board’s action today, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, "The current, broken system fails to recognize the invaluable contributions talented teachers make in the lives of our students. We cannot stand by while our children suffer from teacher layoffs that prevent schools from providing a stable workforce of quality teachers.

“Our primary concern must be that every student has access to a high quality education--one that enables them to get into and graduate from college--and I congratulate the school board for passing this resolution and continuing to protect the rights of our students,” he continued.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

HIAS' Immgration Reform Advocacy

We Were Strangers, Too:
the Jewish Campaign for Immigration Reform

HIAS and our national and local Jewish organization partners have launched We Were Strangers, Too: the Jewish Campaign for Immigration Reform. This campaign calls on Congress to make immigration reform a priority in the 111th Congress.

The We Were Strangers, Too campaign calls for immigration legislation that:

Keeps families united and decreases the waiting time for family re-unification.

Creates pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Creates a plan for future migration flows in order to protect all workers' rights.

Empowers immigrants to fully integrate by providing financial support to local governments and community organizations that offer classes and services.

Establishes border protection and enforcement policies that bolster our national security, while balancing enforcement with economic development and human and civil rights.

Read more click here. . . .

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

IKAR's Open Letter about Immigration Reform

Dear friend,
A national movement supporting comprehensive immigration reform has been gathering momentum in recent weeks. Humane immigration reform is a moral issue that has a special resonance for the Jewish community. With the memory of being “strangers in a strange land” fresh in our hearts and minds after Pesach, many of us believe that it is vital for us to stand together as Jews in voicing our support for reform. One way to voice support is to sign the open letter by clicking here. This letter and its signatures will be sent to our members of congress, senators, and of course, to President Obama.
Please read the open letter and consider signing it. And, please forward it to your congregants, American Jewish friends, family, and colleagues. The more people who sign the letter, the more powerful our collective voice will be.

Please include your email address so that you can be kept up to date
with the journey this letter takes.

This open letter was put together by members of IKAR. IKAR is a Los
Angeles based Jewish spiritual community that stands at the
intersection of spirituality and social justice. For information about
IKAR click here

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From the Website:

Enjoy this brief PSA of rabbis, imans, pastors and people of many religions affirming their commitment to social justice. 

Social Justice and the World's Religions

Monday, May 3, 2010

Immigration Reform Debate, Myths and Truths

A good resource from the Washington Post.  Click here

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Social Action Updates

  • Wednesday, April 28th: The first meeting of the Tzedakah Council.  This is where it will all happen!  For the first time, we've created a council for all the members of Stephen S. Wise Temple (and our schools) who are involved in special projects working for the good of our community.  We'll create strategies for getting more and more members of our community involved in long term social action projects and work as the clearing house for projects that become priorities for advocacy throughout our community.  Interested?  Email Rabbi Stern, click here.
  • Sunday, May 2nd.  Ten volunteers (8 medical professionals and 2 others) will head to RAM LA to volunteer our time helping the uninsured in our community.  Others from the Temple have made it their priority to volunteer at RAM LA during other days of service.  We can be proud of our folks who've given up their own time to serve those desperately in need.  Did you go?  Tell your story be responding to the blog below.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why we, as Jews, support humane immigration reform

An open letter to President Obama and our Senators and Representatives in Congress:

We Jews are children of the Exodus. In ancient times, our community was forged in response to the memory of brutality in the land of Egypt and the march to a better world. More recently, American Jews share a history of leaving an Old World of hardship and prejudice for a land of hope and opportunity. . . .  (Read and sign the letter by clicking here.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Immigration Reform Forum sponsored by KPCC

Reforming immigration, transforming California?
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
6:30 p.m.
The Crawford Family Forum with KPCC's Larry Mantle from Airtalk
474 S Raymond Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91105

As soon as healthcare overhaul was signed into law, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed a legislative outline for immigration reform. It’s poised to be the next big battle in Washington. On April 14th in the Crawford Family Forum Larry Mantle and a panel of guests will debate the proposal and discuss how it might affect immigrants in our region. Join Larry Mantle and guests for this in-depth discussion Wednesday evening, April 14th, at 6:30.

Stephen S. Wise Temple has no affiliation with this event, this is provided for information purposes only.
RSVPs are required.-- Click here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Immigration Reform and Jewish Values: A Sermon in Three Parts

Continuing our conversation about Immigration Reform, Rabbi Stern integrated Jewish perspectives on immigration into a Kabbalat Shabbat service.  See the videos here:

Part 1 click here.

Part 2 click here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

The Reform Movement is the only Jewish religious movement to have a full time lobbying center in Washington, D.C. for social justice.  This represents the founding principle of Reform Judiasm that affirms a commitment to social justice.  Though the positions that are taken by the RAC (Religious Action Center) are sometimes controversial, more often than not, the RAC is at the front of vital social change and leads the way for policy the ultimately follows. 

Visit the RAC page on Immigration Reform by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Paul Koretz Responds Favorably to LA Voice Endorsed Resolution (and to Rabbi Stern's call)

Following is a press release from Paul Koretz's office.  LA Voice received word of Richard Alarcon's intention to bring the resolution discussed below up at city council.  Word went out to the LA Voice clergy base to encourage our city council representatives to support the resolution.  After reviewing the details of the resolution, Rabbi Stern called Paul Koretz's office to encourage his support.  Happily, Council Member Koretz supported the resolution and it passed.  Rabbi Stern is grateful to the staff of Mr. Koretz's office as well as Mr. Koretz himself for the follow-up phone calls affirming support.  Paul Koretz will remain an important resource, advocate and partner for the continuing Social Justice work at our synagogue, his responsiveness to the Investment/Divestment Resolution below reflects the strength of our community's relationship with his office. 

Press Release                                                  Contact:  Paul Michael Neuman
March 5, 2010                                                     (213) 473-7005

Koretz speaks out strongly in favor of “Responsible Lending” motion

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz today voted in favor of Richard Alarcon’s motion to promote socially responsible, community-friendly banking practices.

Councilmember Koretz said, “This a tremendous effort that can help protect people and neighborhoods.  We need banking in our society, but we need banks that are responsive to community needs and fair and just in how they treat their customers.  It will be greatly beneficial to have our city encourage responsible banking practices, including by favoring banks that invest back in the communities of Los Angeles.”

The motion by Alarcon will lead to the creation of a “report card” to evaluate the track record of banks that want to do business with the City. The report will include date on such things as the number of small business loans, evidence of working with homeowners facing disclosure, the numbers and locations of branches and ATMs, and the use of federal TARP funds.

Councilmember Koretz added, “I’m especially pleased that the City will now be able to use its authority and influence to guide banks towards helping people keep their homes – the last thing we should want is to have more people, who are already desperately struggling to stay afloat, lose their homes to foreclosure.  We want banks that truly help families, small businesses and neighborhoods.  In these tough economic times – which were caused, in large part, by irresponsible and predatory banking practices – we need banks to do their fair share serving the communities and helping the people of this City.  Today our City Council took an important step for that very cause.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

LA Times: Obama looking to give new life to immigration reform

In an effort to advance a bill through Congress before midterm elections, the president meets with two senators who have spent months trying to craft legislation.
By Peter Nicholas

March 4, 2010 | 6:18 p.m.

Reporting from Washington - Despite steep odds, the White House has discussed prospects for reviving a major overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, a commitment that President Obama has postponed once already.

Obama took up the issue privately with his staff Monday in a bid to advance a bill through Congress before lawmakers become too distracted by approaching midterm elections.

In the session, Obama and members of his Domestic Policy Council outlined ways to resuscitate the effort in a White House meeting with two senators -- Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- who have spent months trying to craft a bill.

According to a person familiar with the meeting, the White House may ask Schumer and Graham to at least produce a blueprint that could be turned into legislative language.

The basis of a bill would include a path toward citizenship for the 10.8 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Citizenship would not be granted lightly, the White House said. Undocumented workers would need to register, pay taxes and pay a penalty for violating the law. Failure to comply might result in deportation.

Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman, said the president's support for an immigration bill, which would also include improved border security, was "unwavering."

Participants in the White House gathering also pointed to an immigration rally set for March 21 in Washington as a way to spotlight the issue and build needed momentum.

Though proponents of an immigration overhaul were pleased that the White House wasn't abandoning the effort, they also wanted Obama to take on a more assertive role, rather than leave it to Congress to work out a compromise.

Immigration is a delicate issue for the White House. After promising to revamp in his first year of office what many see as a fractured system, Obama risks angering a growing, politically potent Latino constituency if he defers the goal until 2011.

But with the healthcare debate still unresolved, Democrats are wary of plunging into another polarizing issue.

"Right now we have a little problem with the 'Chicken Little' mentality: The sky is falling and consequently we can't do anything," Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in an interview.

Republicans are unlikely to cooperate. On Capitol Hill, Republicans said that partisan tensions had only gotten worse since Obama signaled this week that he would push forward with a healthcare bill, whether he could get GOP votes or not.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said in an interview, "The things you hear from the administration won't be well received."

Schumer, speaking as he walked quickly through the Capitol, said he was having trouble rounding up Republican supporters apart from Graham. "It's tough finding someone, but we're trying," Schumer said.

On Thursday, Schumer met with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees the government's immigration efforts, to strategize over potential Republican co-sponsors.

"We're very hopeful we can get a bill done. We have all the pieces in place. We just need a second Republican," Schumer said in a statement.

Among proponents, there is a consensus that a proposal must move by April or early May to have a realistic chance of passing this year. If that deadline slips, Congress' focus is likely to shift to the November elections, making it impossible to take up major legislation.

"There's no question that this is a heavy lift and the window is narrowing," said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group.

When it comes to immigration, Obama's strategy echoes that of healthcare. He has deferred heavily to Congress, leaving it up to Schumer and Graham to reach a breakthrough with the idea that he would put his weight behind the resulting compromise.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stephen S. Wise Elementary students reflect on their Experience with LA's Best

LA's Best is an after school enrichment program that takes place in specific LAUSD schools. The Israel Consulate has joined with the Mayor's office to develop partnerships between LA Jewish schools and LA's Best participating schools. The goal is to build stronger relationships between the LA Jewish community and the Latino community. As indicated elsewhere on this blog our relationship with the Boyle Heights Community of Dolores Mission and our work with them on Immigration Reform all reflect this strategic priority of the Jewish Community. Enjoy the reflections of our Elementary School 5th Grade class!

Justin Leff

(a recent addition)

At the end of January, the fifth grade students went on a field trip to Victory Elementary School, a public school with mostly Hispanic students. There we learned about their culture and did activities with them. When we arrived, the students of Victory Elementary School welcomed us in the auditorium with bottles of water and cereal bars. We sat across from the students. My friends and I started a conversation with the kids across from us. We talked about favorite movies, favorite sports, the daily school schedule, and favorite school subjects. We told them that they will be coming to our Purim Carnival and taught them how Purim became a holiday. They told us about the language they learn at school and we told them about Hebrew and Judaic studies. Later we got to sing songs with Mrs. Jeser, dance with special guests, and paint hands on one of the walls of their school with Mrs. Navah. Before we came, we made leaves with poems, beads, and pictures on it; every kid there got one. Victory School’s students made everyone little pocket books with pictures on them. Everyone learned that even though we are different religions, we are the same because we are all people. We are looking forward to seeing Victory School at the Purim Carnival -- playing games, going on rides with them, and teaching them about the history of Purim.

Bailey Share Aizic
My name is Bailey and I am a fifth grader who went on the field trip to Victory Elementary School. I think that meeting Hispanic students and learning about their culture was a very good way to learn about diversity. It was also important to learn that people who are different from us in language, background, culture or religion can be our friends. I hope that the students at Victory felt the same way.

Our day at Victory Elementary started off in large groups sitting at a table, having a snack and getting to know each other. I hit it off with a girl named Jackie. Then we were off to the murals. Our wonderful art teacher, Ms. Navah, painted a big tree and branches on one of the walls at Victory School. Each of us took a sponge in the shape of a hand, dipped it in paint, and added it to the “tree.” Then all of us learned and sang Tu B’Shvat songs with Mrs. Jeser. For our last activity, we all learned a dance. We exchanged handmade gifts, and then it was time to go. I was sad when I had to leave my new friends.

Amanda Hartstein

Our field trip to Victory Elementary School was very sweet and touching. For me to meet Hispanic students was very interesting. I learned a lot from them. I learned some of their language and dance. I learned what they like to do in and out of school. To learn and interact with the kids from the LA's Best program was a new experience for me and everyone in are grade. We did fun activities with them and completed a "Tree of Friendship." I do think they could have included activities that involved some teamwork so we could interact with the kids even more.
I think they learned a lot from us. They also learned some things we like, some of are language, and some songs that we sing. I think the kids had a lot of fun just like we did. Overall I think it was a vert nice and interactive trip wanted me to know more about them. The way they decorated the auditorium for us was so nice and it touched me and made me open my heart more. They were kids with very good manners and were very polite toward us. All of the LA's Best kids have great hospitality I have to say.
The media at the trip did a very nice job and the Israeli Consulate people are very wise and smart to organize these special trips. Overall this trip was very fun and very well put together. I am so happy the kids will be coming to out Purim Carnival!

Kobi Hekmat-Niaz
Meeting and interacting with the Hispanic students from Victory Elementary was fun and interesting. We learned what other schools were like, and we went out into the world, seeing what the world was like apart from our Stephen S. Wise community. Some of us made friends with some of the kids from their school. They weren't much different from us, although Victory is a public school. They had sports and P.E. They had art, music, and many of the subjects we do. We learn the Hebrew language, and they learn Spanish. The students at Victory Elementary were welcoming and kind. The activities we did together were fun, but they were not very bonding. We sang and had a music class, we danced a Native American dance, and we created a beautiful mural called "The tree of Friendship." It was a painting of a tree. Every single student took a hand-shaped sponge, chose a color, and put the handprint on the tree. Those were the leaves of the tree. This was a very meaningful activity.

Next time, I would suggest a sports activity because team sports are bonding, and can create great friendships. Working as a team would be an interesting activity. From our experiences, and theirs, I think we learned many things. First, that our schools are alike in many ways. Second, that when we work together, we can achieve goals beyond imagination. For example, planting many trees for Tu B'shvat, and helping the environment. And third, that this was a great experience. I think we should do something similar to this again.

Sawyer Kroll
I think that it was a great experience for both cultures. Many kids at Stephen S Wise were probably thinking that Hispanics and public schools were all messes full of gangs, which is the stereotype. The kids from the other school probably thought that Jews were crazy people so I thought that it was a great experience to see their school to prove the stereotypes wrong. It was always probably a great experience for the Hispanic school to see that Jews were good people and make new friends and tight bonds. I thought that the activities that we did weren't the most bonding of activities. I thought it would be better to play a sport where you don't look to see if the person that you are passing to is Hispanic or a Jew, you just look to see if the person is on your team. All in all I thought it was a great bonding and learning experience.

Andie Gilder

I hopped off the bus at Victory Elementary School, excited to meet my new friends. I suddenly got nervous. I have to confess that one thought kept running through my mind. What if one of these new friends didn't like me? But then I thought, I'm fun - creative - athletic and caring….what's not to like? So I tried to look at this situation as though my cup was half full. Now I am thinking of what types of projects we were going to do? What were we going to learn about their heritage? I was now excited to find out what that was.

The Victory students were setting up for the event in their auditorium. Once we entered the room, a nice woman wearing a sparkly outfit (which symbolized something I had no clue about), greeted us with a big smile.

The teaching assistants seated us into three designated groups. The Stephen S. Wise students were scattered all over the auditorium. I looked around the room, and thought how nice it was seeing all of the Hispanic children organized, sitting at tables with us. One group was green, another was blue, and my group was red.

I was lucky! I had a great group. I sat next to Adam, Julio, and Logan. So I tried to be conversational. I learned Julio's favorite movies were: Step Brothers and Pineapple Express, Adam wanted to be an archeologist, and Logan was hoping to make it into the NBA one day. Some of the boys from Stephen S. Wise jumped right in on that conversation.

But what struck me the most was when Adam asked us how to say "Hello" in Hebrew. We say "Shalom" and tell them that it has a few meanings: Hello, Goodbye, and Peace. We were having more fun by the second, and time started to fly by.

We moved from station to station and ended up in Mexican Dancing! The performers were banging on their instruments while the students and teachers danced. This was really interesting for me because I have never seen Mexican dancers dance before.

I was really excited when I found out that we were going to be able to perform the routines the dancers just did. I tried my best, it was fun, but it definitely didn't turn out the way I had planned.

We finally headed over to the music room and waited for our music teacher Mrs. Jesser to begin, so we could sing our song to our new friends. The song we sang was "Todah" Thank you! It seemed like the perfect song to sing since they were such great hosts.

The greatest part was the Victory students joined in too, and the whole auditorium was singing our song. It was awesome to see the Hispanic children singing a Hebrew song with us Jewish kids. It was pretty impressive how they caught on in just a few minutes.

This field trip taught me a lot about the Hispanic culture, and how to appreciate the differences and similarities in all of us. I enjoyed seeing how they danced, played their instruments, and most of all I loved spending time with some new kids. I don't have a clue, why I was worried.

The following paragraphs are excerpted from longer essays: (Thanks to Ms. Baker!)

Rachel Sarrafzadeh:

On January 27 we were invited to Victory Elementary. When we first got there, we were introduced to our buddies. Ours were Ashley, Vanessa, and Leslie. They told us about their school and we told them about our school. It was kind of like an interview. We learned a lot about each other. We learned their favorite songs, T.V. shows, websites, and some of the hobbies they like to do in their free time. I really liked this field trip because we got to learn about another culture and meet new people: tow people coming together and making a difference!

Navid Rodd:

We sang some Tu BiShVat songs and painted a mural. We taught each other our languages. We taught them how to shout, "Hello," and how to scream, "Come together," in Hebrew. They taught us how to say those things in Spanish. Most of them were shy but some weren't shy at all. I met a boy named Nicholas who was a big fan of sports. His favorite sport was baseball. They taught us about LA's Best. It is an afternoon program where kids can go and play sport, do homework, and more.

Lindsey Rosenblatt:

At the closing ceremony, we heard a new song written for us by the writer of the Power Ranger song. It is now our song. It was amazing! I loved it! It sounded better than most of the music I listen to. Before we left, we yelled, "Goodbye and thank you!" They were very nice and I had fun. Working together makes bigger things.

Autria Mashian:

When we got to Victory Elementary School, we asked the fourth and fifth graders questions while we ate snacks…..We ended the day by giving them leaf key chains and getting small, hand-painted purses back. I had a great day; two backgrounds became one!

Daniella Cohensedgh:

On January 27th the whole fifth grade from Stephen S. Wise went to Victory Elementary for a cultural exchange. We sang a lot of exciting songs and a few Hebrew songs. At first we led the songs, but the Victory students happened to be louder and more enthusiastic! After that, we went back to the auditorium and the Consul General from Israel spoke and told us that there would be trees planted in Israel for every fourth and fifth grade student at Victory and every fifth grader at Stephen S. Wise. We were surprised by a song written just for us about how everyone is the same and we are all one. This was a spectacular experience for me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Editorial in Immigration Reform from the Forward and Ha'aretz


U.S. Jews and Latinos form unlikely bond over immigration policy
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward

Even as health care reform twists in the wind, immigration policy looms as the next big political debate, and Hispanics and Jews are moving to the forefront in a burgeoning political alliance.

The next three months are seen as critical in the fight for immigration reform, but the weakening of the Democrats, grip on Congress with the recent loss of a key Massachusetts Senate seat does not bode well for the passage of reform legislation.

The Jewish-Latino alliance on immigration issues builds on the heritage and experience of the Jewish community and on the enthusiasm and urgent needs of the Hispanic community, which has a strong interest in issues of family unification and the status of the some 12 million illegal immigrants, most of them from Latin America.

But Jewish activists also see the joint work as an opening for cooperation with the Hispanic community on other issues, such as Israel.

"If we want to engage with the Latino community on issues that are of concern for us, including Israel, we need to engage on issues that bother their community," said Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. "We want to create growing bonds with the Latino community, and we cannot create these bonds if we are indifferent to the issues that are of concern to them."

Alliance: Luis Gutierrez (left) and Charles Schumer are trying to drive reform through Congress. Some advocates view the ethnic backgrounds of the two key lawmakers leading the drive for immigration reform as symbolic of the growing alliance on the issue. In the House, the main immigration reform bill was presented Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, and in the Senate it is expected that New York's Senator Charles Schumer will soon present his version of immigration reform legislation.

The Gutierrez bill has been praised by advocates for immigrants as providing answers to most of the concerns of the Hispanic community, but so far it has failed to gain any Republican support.

Schumer's bill, now in the making, is expected to have more bipartisan appeal, by taking a nuanced approach to the thorny issue of providing a path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants.

While Democratic-backed health care reform legislation was uniformly opposed by Republicans and now seems to be stuck in Congress, advocates agree that immigration reform stands no chance of passage without bipartisan support.

But immigration advocates believe that the blow suffered by health care reform supporters following the Massachusetts Senate election does not necessarily dictate the same fate for immigration reform. Indeed, said HIAS’s Aronoff, it might even help the cause, due to increased pressure on lawmakers to show progress on key issues. "All Americans have seen the gridlock in Washington and are very frustrated with it” he said. “Now the president and Congress need to show that they can solve problems for Americans."

But with the political clock ticking, supporters of reform fear that major legislation is becoming harder to pass, and so they set the first half of 2010 as a desired deadline for passing legislation. "Every day we get closer to the elections, the harder it becomes," said Richard Foltin, director of national and legislative affairs at the American Jewish Committee, referring to upcoming congressional elections.

Jewish communal support for immigration reform is organized around several principles, including the need for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants; a mechanism for dealing with future immigration waves; speeding up work on family unification; integrating new immigrants into American society; and finding, as Jewish immigration advocates put it, an "effective and humane" way of enforcing immigration laws and border control.

This last point seems to be a growing concern within the Jewish community, said Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs based in Chicago. Ramsey, whose organization has been working closely with Hispanic groups, stressed that while both communities strongly support immigration reform, there is still a need to instill in members of the Jewish community the importance of the issue, which for most Jews carries a symbolic, not personal, importance.

"Our community is one step removed," she said, "and therefore it is very important to make it real for people by interacting with the Latino community."

While the Jewish organizational world is essentially united on this issue, some have argued that the Jewish rank-and-file is not on entirely the same page as communal leaders.

The supposed divide between religious leaders of various stripes and their rank-and-file was the focus of a recent survey, sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that opposes granting illegal immigrants a path to legalization and instead argues that many will return to their home countries if immigration laws are better enforced. That poll, which was conducted online by Zogby International in December, found that Jews were roughly equally divided between those who prefer a stepped-up enforcement approach and those who prefer granting legal status with a path to citizenship.

Jewish immigration advocates have questioned the survey's methodology, but they agree that there are diverse opinions within the community. Yet the CIS poll also found that Jews were still considerably more likely than members of other religious groups to support granting legal status to illegal immigrants, a finding that immigration advocates say rings true.

The organized Jewish community is more committed than ever to immigration reform. A letter supporting immigration reform, which will be sent out to all Senate offices in early February, was signed by dozens of national Jewish organizations.

Joining forces with the Hispanic community has been a longstanding goal for Jewish groups. But what seems to be a rare chance to reform immigration laws has helped galvanize the relationship.

At a January 10 roundtable in Durham, N.C., Jewish and Latino activists shared their immigration experiences and looked for ways to work together in support of the legislation. "We broke into groups and spoke about the similarity between our grandparents' immigration and their experience nowadays," said Stephanie Grosser, who has been coordinating outreach efforts for HIAS.

One of the issues activists from both sides discussed was hate and hostility directed at immigrants, both past and present-day, whether they were Jewish newcomers at the turn of the 20th century or Latinos in recent decades. "After we talked about why the Jewish community cares about immigration, two Latino women from the crowd came up and hugged me," Grosser recalled.

Cooperation between the two communities goes beyond the issue of immigration reform and includes many joint programs on the local level. On the national level, Jewish and Latino groups are part of broader coalitions organizing a Washington rally in March in favor of immigration reform, which will be preceded by advocacy work in congressional districts during the February congressional recess.

Jewish groups bring to the table their experience and well-established network of political contacts, a contribution highly appreciated by Hispanic organizers.

"For us, as newcomers to the society, this experience is extraordinary," said Gutavo Torres, president of Casa Maryland, a Hispanic group active in the metropolitan Washington area. "They know how to work through the system, how to lobby, how to advocate. The Jewish community has a lot of experience and a lot of power."

Jewish organizations have been increasing their efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community for several years, and most national groups have established joint programs and sponsored Jewish-Hispanic events. With the rapid growth of the Hispanic community and with its rising political clout, Jewish groups see added value in building bridges to the community.

"We are working on immigration, because it is the right thing to do, because it is part of our values," said the AJC's Foltin. "But the dialogue also creates better understanding for the needs of our community."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Breaking News on Immigration Reform

Latinos seek more support for immigration reform

Illinois congressman tells L.A. protesters that he needs more votes for a reform bill.

By Teresa Watanabe

11:06 PM PST, February 1, 2010

A leading Latino lawmaker asserted Monday that Latinos, angered at President Obama for his failure to push immigration reform legislation, could stay home from the polls this year.

"People are angry and disillusioned," U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in an interview.

Gutierrez criticized the Obama administration for not pushing harder for legislation that would provide an opportunity for legalization for some immigrants. But he conceded that he lacks the votes in the House to pass the bill he backs.

Aiming to revive the immigration reform effort, Gutierrez flew to Los Angeles to headline a town hall meeting Monday evening at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, known as "La Placita," which has long declared itself a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

With pro-reform banners and chants, hundreds of immigrants and their supporters turned out at the forum, which featured elected officials, labor leaders and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

The diverse slate of speakers included the Rev. Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who said Latinos and African Americans share a common interest in fighting "slave wages."

One Korean illegal immigrant described his drive to excel as a graduate of UC Santa Barbara who dreams of contributing to the country as a professor.

And Beck drew cheers and a standing ovation when he declared, "A person's immigration status alone is not the business of the Los Angeles Police Department."

Earlier, Gutierrez told The Times that Obama's failure to push immigration reform was symbolized by his State of the Union address last Wednesday, when he devoted 38 of about 7,300 words to the issue.

The "throwaway line," Gutierrez said, was the final straw for many activists who have been perturbed by the continued deportations and other enforcement actions without real progress on reform legislation.

Removals of illegal immigrants have increased under the Obama administration. In fiscal 2009, they grew to 387,790 from 291,060 in 2007 under the Bush administration, government data show.

Asked to respond to Gutierrez's remarks, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said in a written statement that the administration remained "committed to confronting this problem" through administrative and enforcement tools, along with working with Congress toward a solution.

Gutierrez said he was short at least 18 votes in the House to pass his legislation, which would legalize most of the nation's 12 million illegal migrants, provide more family visas, increase worker protections and offer other reforms.

He acknowledged that selling the bill to the American public at a time of double-digit unemployment would not be easy.

But he and Los Angeles labor leader Maria Elena Durazo argued that legalizing undocumented immigrants would help the nation's economic recovery by raising their wages and allowing them to spend more consumer dollars.

To revive the issue's visibility, immigrant rights supporters are organizing a national mobilization on March 21 to take 100,000 people to Washington, D.C.

Without progress, the congressman warned that many Latinos would stay home from the polls.

According to exit polls, Obama received 70% of the Latino vote in 2008, boosting him to victory in the swing states of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida.

A poll last December by Latino Decisions, a research team specializing in the Latino vote, found that significant numbers of Latino voters would defect without passage of immigration reform.

"Democrats have to be very careful that they don't push Latinos from frustration to an active attitude of punishing them for inaction," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonpartisan public policy analysis organization.

Gonzalez said 1,000 Latino leaders from 15 states who recently met in Texas agreed to launch an "accountability campaign" to publicize whether House and Senate members support immigration reform and withhold votes from those who do not.

But Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican who publishes a nonpartisan analysis of California elections, questioned whether Latinos would defect from Democrats.

"What are they going to do, vote for Republicans who won't even bring up the topic?" he asked.

"The shrillness of Republican rhetoric on immigration reform has more of an impact on Latino voting behavior than the lack of a rapid response from the Obama White House."


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Position of the American Jewish Committe on Immigration Reform

Hearing on Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives
Statement of Richard T. Foltin, Esq., Director of National and Legislative Affairs
Office of Government and International Affairs
American Jewish Committee
Submitted on behalf of the American Jewish Committee to
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee
on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security
Hearing on Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives
October 8, 2009
From its founding in 1906, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has been a strong voice in support of fair and generous treatment of immigrants, participating actively in many of the major immigration debates of our time: opposing reductions in the flow of legal immigrants; supporting increased "family unification" immigration; supporting efforts to reduce the flow of illegal immigration and enforce immigration laws within the context of due process and humane treatment; supporting policies that assure that the U.S. fulfill its role as a haven for refugees fleeing persecution; supporting access to public benefits for legal immigrants on the same basis as citizens; and supporting programs designed to educate and integrate new citizens.

In advocating for these policies, AJC acts in accord with the American Jewish community's long-standing interest in, and commitment to, a United States immigration and refugee policy that represents our nation's best traditions. According to Jewish tradition, "strangers" are to be welcomed and valued, as we were once "strangers in the land of Egypt." The Torah tells us: "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34). Further, we recall how our parents and grandparents made their way to this country seeking a better life, often fleeing persecution, and know that we have prospered because of all that this country has offered us. That same opportunity should be available for others as well.

AJC continues to reaffirm its commitment to fair and generous immigration policies, as fundamentally good for the United States and consistent with Jewish values. Even today, Jewish immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers immigrate to the United States from all corners of the world, including such places as the former Soviet Union, Yemen, Iran, and Central and South America. But our commitment to appropriate immigration policies is not only about the Jewish community, which today constitutes only a small portion of the immigration flow. It is fundamentally about what we see as in the best interests of our country overall, as well as assuring that our nation acts in accord with its highest values. At the same time, we recognize the urgent need for reform of our visa, border and admissions systems, in order to keep out those who wish to do us harm. American immigration policies must be consistent with safeguarding our national security through maintaining control over our nation's borders and enforcing the nation's immigration laws in a fashion consistent with due process and humane treatment. We are also committed to measures that better incorporate newcomers into American society and culture.

We call for immigration reform because each day in our congregations, service programs, health-care facilities, and schools we witness the human consequences of a broken and outdated system. We see the exploitation of undocumented workers and the plight of separated families, as well as the escalation of community fear due to enforcement measures that are neither smart nor humane. Comprehensive immigration reform would help put an end to this suffering, opening the door to a better life for those who desire to work hard and contribute in a positive way to American society but for now must live in the shadows, a situation that offends the dignity of all human beings.

History has demonstrated that immigrants enrich this nation economically and culturally, and immigration remains a central ingredient to retaining America's economic strength and its proud tradition of democratic pluralism. According to a CATO Institute report, legalization of immigrants would yield significant income gains for American workers and households.1 The study found that legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would result in an income gain of 1.27 percent of GDP or $180 billion for U.S. households. Furthermore, legalization would allow immigrants to have higher productivity and create more openings for Americans in higher skilled occupations. As such, a fair and generous immigration policy not only reflects our highest values of freedom, opportunity, and family cohesion, but would also benefit our nation materially.

Comprehensive immigration reform must provide a holistic approach to reforming our immigration system. Such reform should include:

1. Changes to family immigration laws.

Family is the cornerstone of American society. United families build strong individuals and strong communities. Right now, many immigrant families remain separated for years - sometimes even decades - because of the bureaucratic visa delays. Comprehensive immigration reform means reforming the immigration system to expedite the visa process in favor of family reunification. This includes making family-based visas more accessible, reducing the current backlog of family-based visas, and generally reorienting the visa system to prioritize family unity. Further, it is important that, in reforming the immigration system, we push back against efforts to deny citizenship to immigrant children born in the United States, which violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Also, we must ensure that family-based visas are not placed in competition with other visa categories. Provisions such as these are inhumane and harmful to the goal of family unity.

2. A path to legalization for immigrants already in the United States.

There are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Comprehensive immigration reform would provide these immigrants with a path to legal status and eventual earned citizenship. This track to citizenship should be realistic, rather than being so burdensome that it prevents integration. Reasonable criteria may include learning English, having a job, maintaining a criminal-free background, and/or paying a modest fine. However, fines should not be excessive, exemptions should be made for vulnerable populations, and immigrants should not have to return to their country of origin to apply for legal status or citizenship. These measures would only deter participation in the legalization process.

3. Facilitation and support for immigrant integration.

Many immigrants desire to naturalize but lack the necessary tools. AJC believes that the successful acculturation of immigrants is fundamental to a sound immigration policy, and urges greater efforts to facilitate newcomers' adjustment to American society. Acculturation efforts should convey an understanding of and appreciation for American democratic institutions, patriotism, and constitutional principles, including equality under the law and due process. At the same time, without a vigorous commitment to pluralism and respect for immigrant cultures, America risks increasing ethnic tension and resentment. Both the successful incorporation of immigrants and a respect for pluralism are necessary to preserve the "American dream" and sustain democracy.

Consistent with these beliefs, AJC supports the creation and/or reinvigoration of, as well as increased funding for programs and practices designed to effectively acculturate immigrants, including increased support for programs for adults and children Also, comprehensive immigration reform should include greater emphasis on the importance of learning English by newcomers-adults and children-with greater funding for such programs so that all who wish to do so have the opportunity to learn English upon their arrival in the U.S. or soon thereafter. Finally, there must be recognition that acculturation cannot be accomplished without the significant participation of community institutions.

4. Smart and humane enforcement measures that bolster our national security.

Border policies must be consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the United States to implement its immigration laws and identify and prevent the entry of criminals, and of persons who wish to do us harm or otherwise pose a risk to our national security.

In updating and reforming border security measures, there should be (1) greater intelligence sharing regarding potential terrorists among the nation's intelligence and gatekeeper agencies; (2) increased use of state-of-the-art anti-fraud technology to create counterfeit-resistant passports and visas, and analyze suspect documents; (3) layers of security with multiple screening points for those departing for and arriving in the U.S.; and (4) improvements in the system that tracks foreign nationals who enter and leave the U.S., including the vigorous monitoring of those who enter with student, visitor, or employment visas; matching of entries into and exits from the U.S. in order to better alert the government to those who stay in the U.S. beyond the terms of their visas; and improved enforcement of applicable laws for those who overstay their visas.

5. Reforming detention policies and due process protections.

Immigration policies should respect human rights and ensure due process for all persons. We have witnessed how indiscriminate immigration raids have caused trauma and hardship for thousands of individuals. Such raids separate families, destroy communities, and threaten the basic rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. The suffering caused by the overreliance on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in homes and workplaces, and by the INA 287(g) program (which has led to widespread misuse of local law enforcement in civil immigration matters and racial profiling, and has imposed a chilling effect on communities), underscores the problems with current U.S. immigration policies and the urgent need for reform.

We urge the new Administration and Congress to reduce the use of detention for immigrants, especially vulnerable groups and those seeking asylum, and improve detention conditions by enacting clear, enforceable reforms that include rigorous medical treatment standards and increased access to pastoral care, legal counsel and legal orientation programs. Furthermore, the government should expedite the release of asylum seekers and others who pose no risk to the community, and expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention, which are more humane and cost effective. In short, enforcement measures such as detention and raids should be narrowly tailored, and should be carried out in a humane fashion and in accord with due process.

To the extent Congress considers, as part of comprehensive immigration reform, the creation of a mandatory electronic work-eligibility verification system and action on "employer sanctions" that penalize employers for the knowing employment of unauthorized immigrants, such measures should incorporate adequate safeguards to protect workers from discrimination in the workplace.

In sum, AJC calls upon our elected officials to enact legislation that includes the following: An opportunity for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria and, over time, pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and eventually United States citizens; reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families who currently wait many years to be reunited; the creation of legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to migrate to the U.S. to enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner with their rights fully protected; and border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, thereby bolstering our national security as well as pursuing the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy.

AJC urges our elected officials to conduct the immigration reform debate in a civil and respectful manner, mindful not to blame immigrants for our social and economic ills or for the atrocities committed by the few who have carried out acts of terrorism. A polarized process lacking in civility hinders deliberative discourse and fails to serve our nation's best interests.

As a faith-based organization, we call attention to the moral dimensions of public policy and pursue policies that uphold the human dignity of each person, all of whom are made b'tselem elohim, in the image of G-d. We engage the immigration issue with the goal of fashioning an immigration system that facilitates legal status and family unity in the interest of serving the God-given dignity and rights of every individual, even as it enhances out national security and promotes respect for the rule of law. It is our collective prayer that the legislative process will produce a just immigration system of which our nation of immigrants can be proud.

AJC appreciates the opportunity to submit this statement and welcomes your questions and comments.1. Peter B. Dixon and Maureen T. Rimmer, Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform, Center for Trade Policy Studies, CATO Institute, No. 40, August 13, 2009, P.1.