A frequent critic of mainstream Jewish immigration policy says unchecked immigration threatens the political power and safe haven Jews have found in America, and could sharply weaken U.S. support for Israel in the coming decades.
Speaking at Congregation Beth Ohr in Old Bridge March 13, Stephen Steinlight said that a rising tide of unskilled immigrant laborers is “the paramount issue” facing the country, creating a permanent underclass that will never be able to sustain the Social Security system.
“Think of what that’s going to mean for your children and grandchildren,” said Steinlight, senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
His talk was jointly sponsored by the synagogue’s sisterhood and men’s club.
Steinlight said continuing high rates of immigration are supported by service industries and the agriculture business, which want a continuous source of cheap labor. He also criticized religious leadership, particularly the Catholic Church and what he called the “tikun olam crowd,” or Jewish organizations that view immigrants’ rights as a social justice issue.
However, Steinlight said, an intelligent immigration policy has “nothing to do with social justice unless you believe it’s okay to rob Peter to pay Pablo.”
Large Jewish groups like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Anti-Defamation League have been critical of Steinlight, calling him alarmist and accusing him of distorting the mainstream Jewish consensus on immigration. HIAS has described that consensus as supporting “carefully crafted enforcement measures” combined with “generous opportunities for refugees and immigrants,” and “an earned legalization program for the undocumented with a path to citizenship.”
In his talk, however, Steinlight accused such organizations as being out of touch.
“There is irrefutable evidence of a vast, gaping chasm between what the religious leadership says and what their congregants say — a huge divide,” said Steinlight. “My experience in literally hundreds of settings is that the great majority of Catholics, mainline Protestants, born-again Evangelicals, and even Jews support enforcement of current laws and are against amnesty.”
Steinlight said both Democrats and Republicans hesitate to tackle the immigration issue out of fear of alienating the growing number of Hispanic voters, “although it is false to think they vote on one issue.”
Steinlight acknowledged the world was an unjust place. He said that in his previous position as executive director of the American Anti-Slavery Group he traveled to Chad and other sub-Saharan African countries where he saw human slaves who were starved, beaten, and raped. There are three million starving people in that area who could technically qualify to come to the United States under refugee status, he said.
(A total of 74,602 persons were admitted to the United States as refugees during 2009, according to the federal Office of Immigration Statistics, although the number averaged below 30,000 per year for the previous decade. The African refugee ceiling for 2009 was 12,000.)
“Everywhere I go, I ask, ‘Do you think we should allow in three million uneducated people from sub-Saharan Africa?’ he asked. “I never get any takers.”
According to Steinlight, many of the millions of immigrants — both legal and illegal — who come to the States every year have anti-Semitic attitudes.
“We are witnessing the greatest upsurge in anti-Semitism in the history of the world,” said Steinlight, “greater than during the rise of Nazism.”
He said many Western European countries with large Muslim populations have seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews.
He praised the recent congressional hearings on “radicalization” in the Muslim community, led by Rep. Peter King (R-NY). “They should have been done 20 years ago,” said Steinlight.
According to Steinlight, while the United States has one of the lowest anti-Semitism rates in the world, 48 percent of Hispanic immigrants hold anti-Semitic attitudes. (A 2009 audit by the Anti-Defamation League put that figure at 35 percent.)
Steinlight also warned that immigration will erode Jewish political clout. Thanks to lobbying and significant political contributions, Jews enjoy considerable political influence.
That influence was responsible for ensuring that hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the Soviet Union were granted “coveted” refugee slots to enter the United States and strong support for Israel.
Yet, Steinlight said, “unelected, aging plutocrats” and their staffs at many Jewish organizations “keep pushing to let in more and more Muslims.”
“As Jews, we can’t seem to take our own side in the argument,” he added. “What is wrong with us?”