Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein says support for immigration reform is inscribed in the Bible. The Old Testament continually reminds Jews they were slaves in the land of Egypt, and that they have an obligation to care for the less fortunate. And, as she points out, the undocumented immigrant population is particularly vulnerable: “They have no safety net.”
The rabbi’s 120-family congregation is in Bakersfield, California, an area that relies heavily on oil and agriculture. The community is home to thousands of immigrant and migrant workers who toil in the fields. The work is physical and taxing, and those without papers are particularly at risk of exploitation.
Through her advocacy with groups like Reform California and Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, Rosenstein has met with many “dreamers,” immigrants who came to the United States as children and have not been able to become permanent residents. “They told their stories, about how difficult it can be to get into college, how they don’t have Social Security numbers,” she says. “It’s heartbreaking to watch people struggle like that.”
Rosenstein says congregants on both sides of the aisle are advocating for change to our immigration system.
In 2013, Rosenstein spoke to a crowd of 2,000 people — all supporters of immigration reform. She says the movement to support immigrants’ rights is motivated by the same demand for justice that Martin Luther King Jr. espoused in the 1960s. “Fifty years ago they marched for freedom and equality,” she says.
Rosenstein has also lobbied her congressman, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, and spoken about immigration reform in her temple, where she has served for 23 years. She says there is sympathy for immigration reform among her congregants — and those sympathizers are not uniformly left-of-center. “We are in the other California,” she says. “It’s not Los Angeles or San Francisco. Things are more bipartisan.” Notably, congregants on both sides of the aisle are advocating for change.