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September 28, 2012 4:03 pm

Latino Jews Weigh in on Immigration, Israel Leading Up to Election

avatar by Alina Dain Sharon / JNS.org

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Pictured is the summer 2012 celebration of the Chicago-based Alliance of Latinos and Jews, which marked its 18th year of existence. Photo: Alliance of Latinos and Jews.

Meet Alex Halberstein. A swing voter in a swing state, the registered Independent’s family moved in 1938 from Vienna to Peru, and then immigrated to Miami following the Peruvian revolution of 1968.

Though Israel is the most important political issue for Halberstein, “the economy is important because we have to make a living,” he says. On immigration reform, Halberstein believes “if you don’t follow the rules, you shouldn’t be rewarded for it.”

According to estimates by the American Jewish Committee (AJC)’s Latino and Latin American Institute, Halberstein is one of roughly 100,000 Latino Jews residing in the U.S. Leading up to November’s presidential election, JNS.org spoke to a group of Latino-Jewish immigrants now eligible to vote in America on how they see issues often associated with typically disparate voting groupswhile many Latino voters are concerned with immigration reform and many Jewish voters are concerned with Israel, Latino Jews have both on their minds.

“The awareness about the presence of Latino Jews in the U.S. is relatively new,” says Dina Siegel Vann, director of the AJC Latino and Latin American Institute. Primarily European Jews and Sephardic Jews from the Ottoman Empire formed contemporary Jewish communities in South America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and after World War II. Eventually, some of those Jews came to the U.S.

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Juan Dircie, associate director of the AJC Latino and Latin American Institute’s Miami branch, says roughly 40,000 Latino Jews reside in Florida. Since the gap between the Republican and Democratic parties in Florida is so small, a group of 10,000 eligible voters could potentially sway the state—or even the entire national election, as was the case in 2000.

Halberstein became involved in the American Jewish community through organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. He also entered political activism by founding the non-partisan Florida Congressional Committee (FCC), which financially supports pro-Israel U.S. senators and Congress members. The South Florida Jewish community is “slowly but surely” increasing its political influence through donations to Jewish organizations like the FCC, NACPAC (Pro Israel National Action Committee) and SunPAC (Florida Hispanic Outreach), Halberstein says.

Siegel Vann, who is from Mexico, says that in the U.S., “Mexican Jews act as an interesting bridge between Mexico and the U.S,” she says. Mexican Jews denounced California Proposition 187, a 1994 bill intended to screen for citizenship and limit public services to illegal immigrants that was later deemed unconstitutional.

Like Siegel Vann, Fanny Herman is from Mexico, where she attended a Jewish day school and Ibero-American University. Her family came to Mexico around 1910 from Turkey and Greece, but she later married an American and moved to the U.S. She is now chair of the AJC Latin American Task Force, as well as the liaison to the Latino community for both the AJC in Chicago and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

At left, President Barack Obama speaks in 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and at right, Republican challenger Mitt Romney speaks in 2011 at CPAC FL in Orlando, Fla. Home to 40,000 of the nation's 100,000 Latino Jews, among many other Jews, the swing state of Florida is critical battleground territory for Jewish votes. Photo: NASA and Gage Skidmore.

“Israel is extremely important to me,” Herman says. “But I don’t consider myself Zionist.” Herman sees herself as part of the Diaspora and wants to work with it to help Israel. “As Jews all over the world, we can live in peace because we have a place to go,” she says.

As both Jewish and Latino, Herman always thinks back to what Jewish immigrants “have gone through,” and believes “it’s a moral thing to do” to help immigrant families stay together. She believes the Democrats are “concerned about [immigration reform and Israel],” but that some policies could be improved. Herman particularly wants the U.S. to enact stronger sanctions against Iran and to take the nuclear threat more seriously. Iran “is not just an Israel issue, but a world issue,” she says.

Daniel Ajzen came from Mexico to the U.S. 30 years ago. He currently resides in San Diego, where he is the president of the Latin American Democracy Defense Organization, LADDO.org—which monitors anti-democratic activities by potentially hostile entities, including Arab terrorist organizations, in Spanish speaking countries. The organization has detected and reported activities by Iran and Hezbollah in Mexico, Nicaragua and other Central American countries. “I care about the survival of Israel,” he says. Ajzen even volunteered in Kibbutz Or-Hanner in the Sha’ar Hanegev region by the Gaza border during the Six Day War.

Ajzen’s articles are published on Hispanic and Jewish websites such as Jewishwebsite.com and Diariojudio.com. By assisting non-profit, citizen advocacy organizations worldwide to develop professional websites at subsidized prices—sites such as the foreign language Web pages of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and Porisrael.orgAjzen works to help Israel build a better and more realistic image around the world.

Ajzen also advocates for immigration reform, as he started several online campaigns to help Hispanic immigrants integrate into U.S. society. Tuspuentes.com links immigrants with their place of origin and Dondeestajose.com helps families locate lost relatives.

Though Ajzen initially preferred Mitt Romney in the upcoming election, he now dislikes the social extremes the Republican candidate has chosen to defend. However, Ajzen says he is considering voting for Romney anyway, “if only to punish Obama for unfulfilled promises and broken dreams.”

According to Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, an expert on Cuba and Latin American affairs from the University of Miami, more than 60 percent of Cuban Jews in the U.S. “will vote for Romney because of his position on Israel.”

Among Jews in Cuba of his generation, there was a strong “pro-Zionist feeling…before Castro,” Suchlicki says. “All of us were young people when Israel was created and grew up supporting Israel.” Many Cuban Jews have made aliyah, while many of them in the U.S. today want the government to be tougher on the Castro regime and believe a Romney government would do this.

Patricia Levin came to the U.S. in 2004 from Argentina and currently teaches at a college preparation academy in Boston. In Argentina, it took a long time for Jews to integrate due to strong anti-Semitism during the country’s dictatorship period, Siegel Vann says. Levin believes “that every Jew should actively support [Israel’s] existence. ”

Levin considers no one issue more important than all the others in this election. “I do profoundly care about civil liberties, human rights, Israeli-American relations, cultural issues, immigration issues, education, health care and the economy… and I believe that Mr. Obama will do a better job [than Romney] managing all of them,” she says.

Monica Cooper, currently the analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s (CAMERA) Revista de Medio Oriente, says Argentinian Jews “may criticize the politics, but they have strong feelings towards Israel.” Personally connected to the Boston Argentinean Jewish community, Cooper believes that “they consider Obama’s track record on Israel a relatively positive one.”

The great grandfather of Bernardo Ferdman was from Bessarabia, and had settled with his family in Entre Rios, an Argentinean province where Moses Montefiore had sponsored the establishment of Jewish settlements. Ferdman is now a professor at the California School of Professional Psychology of Alliant International University and the co-chair of the San Diego Latino Jewish Coalition.

When it comes to immigration reform, there should be a “plan to regularize people that are here,” and there should be a system for people to legally come and go, Ferdman says. “Obama is being mischaracterized,” he adds, emphasizing that the president is “very strong on Israel.” He also likes that Obama has pushed the Israeli government and Netanyahu to focus more on peace negotiations with Palestinians.

A billboard advertisement placed by the Republican Jewish Coalition in Florida—a critical swing state that is home to 40,000 Latino Jews, among many other Jews—in an attempt to sway Jewish voters against incumbent President Barack Obama in the upcoming election. Photo: RJC.

But Sergio Rubinstein, originally from Mexico, intends to vote for Romney and says if Obama “was a supporter of Israel, which is the only democracy in the Middle East, he would take a stronger stand against Iran,” a country that has “openly admitted its intention to destroy Israel.”

“Obama’s speeches are like steam, you see it in front of you and then it disappears!” says Rubinstein, a cosmetic dentist from Skokie, Ill.

Rubinstein also believes immigration must be regulated with a special permit or visa. “Giving a free pass for the illegal immigrants is not the solution,” he says.

A recent AJC poll shows Obama leading Romney 69-25 percent among Florida Jewish voters. Five percent of respondents were undecided, and some Independents like Halberstein could go either way in November.

But while Halberstein may not have determined his candidate yet, he isn’t short on opinions and passion, as is the case with many of his fellow Latino Jewish voters.

“If we had Israel in 1933, we’d have 20 million Jews living today,” Halberstein says. “I do not want [the Holocaust] to happen again.”

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  • Ralph Cohen

    I am a Jew and on These HOLY DAYS it says Love the Strangers in your midst. Whats the use of praying on Yom Kippur, Avinu Hatanu, Bagadnu and in your heart have hate for Hashem.s Children?? Think about it when youre in your Sukkah.

    Wishing you all a Happy New Year may your Goodness be written in the book of Life. Amen.

    Ignorance is Bliss: Those who have NO CLUE or QUALIFICATIONS about Immigration are those who show their IGNORANCE 🙂

    There is NO SUCH WORD AS ‘ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT” in Blacks Law Dictionary, or In Merriam Websters Dictionary. Get Educated .

    “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that the claim by some conservative activists that illegal immigration is to blame for all of the state’s fiscal problems is ignorant and bigoted.”

    Arturo E. Ocampo of Tracy has been a practicing attorney since 1985, In the 20-plus years I have spent studying, lecturing and litigating immigration issues, two things have always amazed me. The first is the amount and intensity of hate spewed against undocumented workers. The second is the amount of misinformation that is published about them.

    On this second point, the quote from Mark Twain is illustrative. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” I suppose this may be true in part because misinformation, like a lie, requires no accuracy, validation or research; all of which are time-consuming practices.

    The recent letters alleging that all undocumented workers are “criminals,” and specifically Veronica Suarez, whose plight was written about in the Tracy Press recently, is a criminal are factually incorrect.

    According to the facts (as stated in Sharon Franceschi’s Sept. 7 commentary) Saurez entered the U.S. on a valid visa, overstayed her visa when it expired, resulting in her unlawful immigration status. None of these acts, as stated by Franceschi, constitute a crime under federal or state law. Overstaying a valid visa under the Immigration and Naturalization Act is a civil violation of the law, not a criminal violation. Being in the U.S. in under undocumented status is not a criminal violation, but a civil violation of the INA.

    The facts, as stated by Franceschi, do not indicate that Suarez has committed any crime. To call her a criminal is erroneous at best, and libelous at worst.

    Furthermore, it is an Americanism that a person is innocent until proven guilty. So until Suarez (or any other undocumented person) is charged and found guilty of a crime, it would be inappropriate to call them “criminals.”

    It is important to note that there is a very large difference between civil and criminal violations of law. The distinction is so important that the law makes the erroneous allegation that one has committed a crime of slander or libel, (which means liability is automatic even without proof of damages). One who violates the civil law is no more a criminal than someone who has breached a contract or accidentally damaged another’s property.

    It is true that entering the United States without inspection is a misdemeanor under the INA. The misdemeanor is completed once an individual’s entry is complete. Suarez, according to Franceschi, did not enter without inspection; she entered with a valid visa. According to U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services statistics, about 40 percent of undocumented persons enter legally and overstay their visas (which, as stated above, is not a crime). Consequently, at least 40 percent of the undocumented population has committed no crime in regards to their immigration status.

    Therefore, one cannot assume that a person has committed a crime simply because they are undocumented.

    Franceschi is also in error in her allegation that getting married and having children while being undocumented in the U.S. is a violation of the law. It is not. Franceschi goes on to say that Suarez “apparently bought a house illegally.” It is unlikely that Franceschi knows exactly how Suarez purchased her home. Consequently, any allegation of illegality is, at a minimum, irresponsible.

    It is also important to note that the Immigration and Citizenship Services doesn’t consider all undocumented persons criminals. When the Immigration and Citizenship Services publishes information about its enforcement activities involving undocumented workers, it are always sure to make a distinction between “criminal” and noncriminal aliens.

    Another myth is that the term “illegal aliens” is a term of art or is legal jargon. This term is not found anywhere in the INA or in Blacks Law Dictionary. The INA refers to undocumented persons as either an EWI (entered without inspection) or as someone who has overstayed their visa. “Illegal aliens” is a term invented by anti-immigrant groups designed to put undocumented persons in the worst possible light and to instill fear in Americans. It is intentionally designed to associate undocumented persons with criminality.

    This xenophobic view that undocumented persons are “simply criminals” comes from the historical stereotype that the foreign-born, especially undocumented immigrants, are responsible for higher crime rates. This misconception has deep roots in American public opinion and popular myth. This myth, however, is not supported empirically and has repeatedly been refuted by scientific studies. Both contemporary and historical data, (including U.S. governmental studies) have shown that immigration is associated with lower crime rates.

    The studies have uniformly shown that recent immigrants (including the undocumented) are less likely to be involved in violent crime, and that when there is an increase in immigration patterns, violent crime decreases. This has been shown to be true in large cities with heavy immigrant populations.

    In the most recent of these studies, The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation (2007), from the Immigrant Policy Institute, it was found that among men age 18 to 39 (who are the vast majority of inmates in federal and state prisons and local jails), immigrants were five times less likely to be incarcerated than the native-born in 2000.

    During the Proposition 187 debate, then-Gov. Pete Wilson published statistics that stated that
    12 percent to 15 percent of the state prison population had Immigration and Citizenship Services holds or potential holds. The Department of Corrections analyst who compiled these numbers said Immigration and Citizenship Services holds are placed on inmates who were born outside of the U.S. (therefore 12 percent to 15 percent of the prison population was immigrants). The immigrant population at the time in California hovered at about 25 percent, showing immigrants were much less likely to be incarcerated than the native born in California.

    In short, the data shows you are much safer if your neighbor is an immigrant.

    Franceschi owes Suarez an apology. I am also surprised that the Tracy Press allowed a commentary to run without checking the facts. Although commentaries are designed to allow for the expression of differing opinions, the First Amendment is not as generous with misstatements of facts — especially when the facts can be libelous.

    For the immigration debate to be a healthy one, we should strive for a debate based on facts, not myth or tired stereotypes. We should also not let our position on this topic strip us of one of the great qualities we possess as people — the ability to be compassionate.

    Arturo E. Ocampo of Tracy has been a practicing attorney since 1985, with an expertise in immigration rights and class action lawsuits on behalf of immigrants, including the way the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was implemented, Border Patrol’s raids and Proposition 187. He is director of diversity and equal employment opportunity for the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District.

  • Abe Bird

    I wish that Jews in America will think again and than vote for Romney. I don’t consider Obama as devoted pro-Israel and his his second term, if elected, he will be more biting towards Israel. Additionally, Romney is much prepared and fits to lead America through the economic crisis and bring her to the shore of stability and prosperity. Obama’s economic doctrine had failed time and again, leaving America in high deficit.

    Just vote Romney and save America !

    • gita Lev

      Go ABE! Your correct, and I think the INDEPENDENT LATINO JEW….is clearly voting for ROMNEY! The Latino Jew is a large segment of the South Florida jewish Community, and they SEE the BIG OWE and DWS for what they are, and, will vote ROMNEY and Karen Harrington(to vote-OUT DEBBIE WASSERMaN-ScH!Tz).

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