A Congress of Immigrants
As the United States continues to struggle with a broken immigration system, six members of the House of Representatives with Jewish backgrounds are sharing their family's immigration stories. By sharing their stories, these Congresspeople are humanizing the issue of immigration and reminding us of the values at the foundation of American society.
Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) completed a survey on how their family immigrated and their thoughts on the current immigration policies. Additionally, through publicly available records, the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable is releasing information about the immigrant roots of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA).
One key point unites all these narratives - all these members of Congress believe that their ancestors would not be able to come to the United States under today’s broken system. The American Jewish community, inspired by these familiar narratives, is mobilizing to fix our immigration system through comprehensive immigration reform that offers a pathway to citizenship. I hope these stories resonate with other members of Congress and compel them to share their family immigration stories publicly.
- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) feels a need to tell our own stories to “help remind people of their family’s immigrant history, many of whom followed the American dream of freedom, prosperity, and a chance to better their family’s future”
- Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) shares her story of coming to the United States from Cuba at the age of eight with her mother and brother.
- House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) maternal grandmother came with her siblings to the United States from Lithuania in the early 1900’s.
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, an international Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, says,
We are familiar with, and inspired by, these stories from members Congress with Jewish immigrant roots. These leaders remind us that immigration has not only been good for the Jewish community, it has been good for America. What is the main difference between our ancestors who came a century ago, and the immigrants of today? If our ancestors tried to immigrate now, the laws of today would likely prohibit them from getting here or staying here.
"These stories reflect similar and intertwined themes of many Americans, across race and religion. It's inspiring to see our shared immigration stories reflected in our members of Congress. I encourage other representatives to share their own immigration stories so we can celebrate more fully who we are as a nation."
Abby Levine is the director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.