Jerusalem and Birmingham, Alabama constitute two very different and distant cities. But given the elephant in the political room—the issue that presidential candidates and the incumbent government prefer to avoid—they’re a lot closer than you think.
This week’s Newsweek (2-13-12) includes an article on Alabama’s recent immigration law. While H.B. 56 meets Alabamians’ needs for a definitive stance opposing illegal immigration, it doesn’t seem to be particularly effective. Author Patrick Symmes points out that while many illegals fled Alabama after the law’s passage, many others came back to take jobs “going begging.” Agriculture and the service sector were hit hard, reports Symmes, and the state legislature has begun work on modifying H.B. 56. It will take a great deal of wisdom to grapple with the issue.
This week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Exodus 18:21) can prove instructive. Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew), Moses’ father-in-law, advises the overworked Moses to assign anshei chayil—“trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gains,” to judge the people. This will leave Moses to judge only the toughest cases. Who are anshei chayil? They are men (and, today, women) who fear God and will not seek to enrich themselves through their offices. Justice, Torah teaches, can only be achieved when those who administer it are disinterested—as opposed to uninterested—and focus only the merits of a judicial case or law.
So what are our choices regarding immigration? We basically have three. First, we can open the doors and let everyone in. That’s not likely to pass muster. The U.S. could be flooded with immigrants whose numbers would overwhelm us. Second we can bar the doors altogether. But we need all kinds of workers from farm laborers to technology Ph.D.s. Third, we can limit immigration—what we do now—but with an updated program that meets the needs of this century rather than the last. And then enforce our laws rather than undermine the very concept of law as this nation’s guiding principle.
A panel similar to that of the Bowles-Simpson commission, which in 2010 reported to President Obama on ways to decrease the deficit, might be a good start. Of course, the President received the commission’s recommendations then promptly ignored them. He may have agreed with their conclusions but scuttled them for political reasons. We can do better if we all acknowledge the complexity of the issues—including potential amnesty—and tackle them on the national level. Sadly, if kicking the can down the road were an Olympic sport, the U.S.A. would be a gold-medal favorite. We’ll all be winners by being losers in that event.
One thing everyone agrees on. An outmoded and unenforced/unenforceable immigration policy angers citizens while sending the wrong message to the rest of the world. Which leads me to think that if we can fly the 6,600 miles between Birmingham and Jerusalem in thirteen hours or so, anshei chayil can bridge the gaps in our immigration laws over the next thirteen months. If we can find any. And I’m not talking about gaps.
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