The proposed way of giving legal status to estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants by a bipartisan group of senators, led by Senators Charles Schumer and John McCain will have little direct effect on Jews but significant effect on people that Jews come into contact daily at home, business and the work setting.
The country with the greatest number of Jews in the world, Israel, historically has supplied very few long term undocumented immigrants to the U.S. as it’s native-born Jews tend to emigrate at half the rate of other comparable industrialized countries, four percent vs. eight percent. When the 1988 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) legalized about three million undocumented immigrants almost no Jewish or non-Jewish Israelis or were among them. Jews from other countries, such as Iran and the Former Soviet Union, having undocumented status are also relatively rare.
It brings to mind the last legislative effort of former U.S. Congressman Howard Berman was spearheading and sponsoring an E-2 Investor Visa bill for Israelis. Berman highlighted in his May 25, press release his legislation introduced in February, 3 months before the June 5, primary election that he lost by a landslide. The press release reads: “Added Berman, ‘Israeli investors have a natural home in the San Fernando Valley and Southern California to expand their businesses, hire American workers, and strengthen the economy. Organizations like The Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit, non-governmental organization encouraging trade and investment opportunities are well positioned to seize on this opportunity.’”
Actually the passed E-2 Visa legislation won’t give Israelis any fast track for actual immigration. E-2 visas are temporary visas available to foreign nationals who must be a national of a country with which the United States has a treaty. To qualify for the visa, a foreign national must come to the U.S. in order to develop and direct the operations of a business in which the applicant has invested, or is in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital. It seems, from migration data, that most Israelis prefer to remain and invest in Israel.
The most significant effect that the new immigration proposal will have will be for the young Israelis who are encountered at shopping malls selling goods from carts around the holidays. A proposed system of recording the visas of those leaving the U.S. for overstays of their allowed visa periods. The proposed consequence of visa overstays and violations might be not being granted future visas to the U.S.
The primary effect of the senate group’s immigration proposals will be felt by the Jewish community in the very domestic spheres of homes and commerce. Many undocumented workers are currently employed as domestic workers, caretakers, gardeners, handypersons in Jewish homes. For example, Jewish population surveys indicate that often the non-Jewish members of a Jewish household are live-in caretakers.
Jewish-owned service and light industrial businesses employ undocumented skilled and unskilled workers in areas such as property management, food service, tourism, hospitality, warehousing and distribution.
The legalization of thousands of undocumented employed by Jews will undoubtedly have the intended effects of normalizing what currently is a discomforting situation of engaging in illegality in otherwise usually law-abiding lives. Certain costs of business and living will likely rise, such as what is paid for food and services. Legalization will enable the greater job mobility and labor protections and likely increase worker options and therefore normalize the labor market for everyone and likely to increase service and manufacturing quality.
Those members of the Jewish community on the margins in terms of income and business may be the most affected by the changing goods and labor markets available to them. This may present some community dislocation that the organized Jewish community and service agencies will need to plan for.
I urge you also read a well-argued, fact-filled JJ blog entitled "Immigration Reform: A Jewish Imperative" by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, makes a strong case why the Jewish community should get behind immigration reform.