The Kansas City Star Commentary: Compassion for immigrants embedded in Jewish history. We should now repay kindnesses

Last summer, I traveled to migrant shelters in Tijuana with T’ruah, a human rights organization of 2,000 rabbis and cantors, and HIAS-the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

I was moved by the mothers I met at the border. These were women who had been deported and separated from their families, but they stayed close to the United States in hopes of being reunited with their children. One mother was trying to get information about her child, only to discover that he committed suicide after her deportation.

That story remains seared into my mind: Immigration is not just about politics. It is a deeply human, moral issue that deserves compassion.

Here in the Midwest, it’s clear that voters are starting to understand this. In November, Kansas voters rejected Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach and his xenophobic agenda.

That’s a pretty big change from two years ago. It’s a sign that the Sunflower State is changing, and that the anti-immigrant message is pushing many voters away. It’s also a sign of a national trend: Americans are sick of hateful rhetoric related to immigration.

For more than a decade, Kobach fought to make immigrants’ lives as difficult as possible, trying to limit their educational opportunities and hidering voting in majority-Hispanic communities. During the election, he led a false national narrative branding those opposed to his hateful views as “open-borders extremist(s).”

Kobach’s defeat could be partially due to demographic changes. In the last five years, in certain Congressional districts, the number of Hispanic and Asian American voters in has increased. In KS-3, for example, those voters grew by more than 5,000, according to a New American Economy (NAE) analysis, while at the same time, the number of white voters fell by 7,500.

That increasing diversity is also part of a national trend: According to NAE, half of the Congressional districts that flipped from red to blue in November saw similar demographic shifts. In dozens of elections across the United States, voters rejected anti-immigrant candidates and the GOP’s exclusionary messaging.

Moral compassion for immigrants is deeply embedded in Jewish history and culture. When Jewish immigrants fled Nazi persecution during World War II, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society offered support. Now that other newcomers, like those from Central America, are seeking refuge on our shores, Jewish organizations and faith leaders are called to respond.

We owe a debt to those who helped our community — one that we can repay by helping today’s immigrants and asylum seekers build strong, productive lives here. Like Jewish immigrants before them, today’s newcomers will devote their passion, intelligence and hard work to America if given the chance.

Instead of fearing immigrants, we should be thanking those who come here and make positive contributions to our communities. In fact, immigrants work hard and contribute to the economy, paying a significant amount of taxes. We should welcome them with open arms and all the support we can gather.

Rabbi Doug Alpert is a lifelong Kansas City resident, the spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami, an attorney and a community activist.

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…