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Rewards of welcoming Russian, other immigrants

April 5, 2011

Story courtesy: indystar.com

Among the more misguided legislative proposals to come before the General Assembly this session is Senate Bill 590, which addresses illegal immigration. Patterned after a similar bill in Arizona, which already has proven detrimental to the best interests of that state, SB 590 would invite racial and ethnic profiling and infringe on civil and human rights. It would send the wrong message to legal immigrants who might bring new business, new investments and new talent to our state.

Immigration reform is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by the federal government in pragmatic and compassionate ways that are enforceable and humane. Passing separate state laws complicates compliance and multiplies expenses.

The biblical legacy enjoins us to treat the stranger with fairness and hospitality. More often than the commandment to "Love your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:18), the Hebrew Scriptures admonish 36 times: "The stranger (immigrant) who sojourns with you shall be to you as the home-born and you shall love him as yourself" (Leviticus 19:33).

Fearing the consequences of wrongful legislation, a broad coalition of citizens and organizations, including the business, religious and academic communities, has signed The Indiana Compact, affirming an immigration policy that is secure and friendly, strong and hospitable. Our goal is a society that champions business opportunities, protection of civil rights and the education, health and well-being of our children and families.

Recently, the Jewish community of Indianapolis celebrated the 20th anniversary of the arrival of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The process started with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the concerted efforts of American Jewish organizations to secure emigration rights for families that suffered persecution due to their religious and cultural identities.

In concert with international efforts, the Jewish Federation, the synagogues of our city and the National Council of Jewish Women coordinated a program of Family Circles that helped to resettle several hundred new immigrants in Indianapolis. They were welcomed, provided with housing, clothing, food and resources. They were assisted in finding employment and advancing their education. They were afforded medical care and emotional support. At the 20th anniversary celebration we learned how this community, now numbering more than a thousand, has grown and prospered:

Sixty-nine former immigrants work at Eli Lilly and Co. and at other local and national pharmaceutical companies.

Forty-one Russian trained physicians work at hospitals and medical centers around the city and state.

Thirty hold research and professorial positions at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and at Butler and Purdue universities.

These immigrants are now teachers, plumbers and electricians; they have engineering and programming positions with private enterprise and with the state of Indiana.

One young female, a cosmetologist upon arrival, went to seminary and was ordained a rabbi; another operates a successful foreign children's adoption service.

Forty-four have grown their own small and large businesses and provide employment for hundreds of Hoosiers.

These former immigrants are now raising families, strengthening faith and values. With their gifts of dance, music and the visual arts, they enrich the culture of our city and state.

Imagine how impoverished we would be without the contributions in commerce, culture and science of these and many other immigrants of different regions and ethnicities.

Let us not be driven by fear and suspicion. Let us build, instead, on our heritage of Hoosier hospitality with clarity of mind and generosity of spirit.

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