‘Gross distortion’ to assert Jewish values endorse unlimited immigration, says rabbi

As some Jewish groups applaud the end of Title 42 amid a historic surge of immigrants and asylum seekers on the U.S. southern border, New Jersey Orthodox Rabbi Steven Pruzansky says the Torah allows nations to defend their boundaries.

An immigrant attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border by illegally by climbing over the border fence in Brownsville, Texas in July 2009. Credit: Nofx221984 via Wikimedia Commons.
An immigrant attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border by illegally by climbing over the border fence in Brownsville, Texas in July 2009. Credit: Nofx221984 via Wikimedia Commons.

Just before midnight on Thursday, a provision of the Public Health Service Act of 1944, called Title 42, expired. The law empowers the federal government to restrict immigration from certain countries amid a health emergency; in this case, it was re-instituted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration invoked it in March 2020 to restrict illegal entry to the country along the southern border to protect people in detention centers, it said. Critics charged that it was put into place as part of a broad anti-immigration approach.

On April 10, U.S. President Joe Biden signed H.J.Res. 7, ending the national pandemic emergency, shortly before Title 42 was slated to expire, which triggered questions about why it should remain in place.

Simon Hankinson, a senior research fellow in the Border, Security and Immigration Center at the Heritage Foundation, described to JNS what was to be expected with the expiration of Title 42.

“Title 42 was a powerful tool, used reluctantly by the Biden Administration to expel around 45% of illegal arrivals,” he said. “Now that it is gone, DHS will have to rely on the powers in Title 8, the immigration laws of the U.S. Our laws, including the asylum process, were never intended for a mass rush of economic migrants like we’re seeing today.”

Hankinson went on to slam Biden’s policy as “de facto mass amnesty” concerning illegal migrants.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky. Source: Screenshot.

“I worked for three Democrat and two Republican presidents in my career. Never before has one of the parties decided to unilaterally and illegally stop enforcing immigration law on this scale,” he said.

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, HIAS, the Anti-Defamation League and the left-leaning T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights have been among the most vocal Jewish organizations pushing for an end of Title 42. In March 2022, the Reform movement referred to the “inhumane, illegal Title 42 asylum policy,” adding that while the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case, the Biden administration “expanded the policy and is planning to implement new policies to go into effect once Title 42 has ended, effectively banning asylum.”

On May 11, HIAS called Title 42 a “pretext” of both the Trump and Biden administrations “to turn away asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.” More than 2 million people were turned away “in violation of the Refugee Convention and U.S. law,” according to HIAS. The prior day, T’ruah CEO Rabbi Jill Jacob’s referred to Title 42 as “a policy that has forced asylum seekers and refugees—people seeking safety—into inhumane and unsafe conditions. But it must not be replaced with an asylum ban and other dangerous policies or legislation.”

On March 27, the ADL stated that the Biden administration’s immigration policy was troubling against a backdrop of rising antisemitism. “It is a new version of similar asylum bans promulgated by the Trump administration that were repeatedly struck down by federal courts as unlawful,” it stated. “The asylum ban attempts to cut off access to asylum for many refugees at the southern border, discriminates against Black, Brown and Indigenous asylum seekers, and seeks to circumvent U.S. law and treaty obligations to refugees.”

None of the organizations responded to queries from JNS about their criticism of Title 42 in light of record numbers of people trying to enter the United States illegally—5 million “encounters” and some 1.3 million known “gotaways” by some counts.

In a recent U.S. State Department briefing, senior officials who did not agree to be named stated that the Biden administration “is implementing a comprehensive, multi-agency, multi-country plan rooted in enforcement, deterrence, and diplomacy to humanely manage the border.” A senior official said up to 1,500 Defense Department staff members are being deployed on the border.

Thousands of migrants seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Dec. 21, 2022. Credit: Ruben2533/Shutterstock.

‘I am concerned about the influx of illegal migrants’

Steven Pruzansky, a longtime Orthodox Rabbi in New Jersey and Israel regional vice president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, told JNS that advocacy by some Jewish groups for unrestricted immigration does not accurately reflect Jewish values.

“The Torah does not address the specifics of a country’s immigration policies. To assert that Torah values would endorse unlimited immigration is a gross distortion. It is utterly baseless,” he said. “Nations are allowed to defend themselves and secure their borders, and the specifics of immigration policy are rightly left to each society to determine.”

Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, told JNS that there are safety concerns on the border, especially amid already rising antisemitism. (The New York Post reported on May 14 that officials caught an Afghan, who is on the FBI terror watch list, trying to enter the country.)

“As a legal immigrant myself who came to America in the 1950s, I am concerned about the influx of illegal migrants, whose health and safety status we don’t know,” he said. “As a Jew, I am also concerned about the ever-larger numbers of Arab and Muslim migrants coming from antisemitic countries.”

Dov Hikind, a former New York State assemblyman, told JNS that the situation on the border is “out of control.” He contrasted the current situation with the U.S. government turning away thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazis during World War II.

“It makes me think of how 10,000 to 12,000 Jews were being murdered every day, and the U.S. knew about it,” he said. “I think of how generous America has become since then.”

Hikind added that he does welcome legal immigration via proper channels.

Sam Markstein, Republican Jewish Coalition national political director, criticized Biden’s handling of the southern border and described the situation as “catastrophic.”

“Where the White House is flailing, House Republicans are acting, by passing H.R. 2, which forces President Biden to finish the wall, end catch-and-release, increase CBP personnel, restores, turn back authority, plugs asylum loopholes and combats the scourge of drug trafficking,” he told JNS.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates