Solidarity in Advocacy: The American Jewish Committee on 1980s Immigration Reform Legislation

Authored by Mizuho Hashimoto

A copy of the American Jewish Committee (AJC)’s Statement on current immigration policy, stapled together with the business card of Gary E. Rubin, then-director of AJC’s Center on Immigration and Acculturation.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has a long history of advocating for social justice and human rights, spanning from 1906 to the present day (American Jewish Committee, n.d.). Set upon the backdrop of 1986’s immigration reform bill, this document in the Garner J. Cline Collection at the Center for Migration Studies is a statement by the AJC arguing against a cap on immigration that would affect family reunification, as well as advocating for the admission of refugees (American Jewish Committee 1984). This Simpson-Mazzoli Bill – which ultimately passed in 1986 – was brought into existence with the intention of reducing illegal immigration, for example by penalizing businesses that knowingly employed undocumented people (Plumer 2013). However, this bill was criticized by those such as Congressman Edward Roybal, who argued that it would be discriminatory against Latino communities (History, Art and Archives, n.d.). In the document we can see the AJC advocating for Roybal’s version of the bill, which eliminated employer sanctions and introduced more generous means for undocumented people to naturalize (Montejano 1999).

The business card we see stapled together with the statement belongs to AJC’s Gary E. Rubin, who was a lifelong advocate for the underprivileged (The Forward 2003). While it is impossible to know the nature of the exchange that led to Garner J. Cline, then-staff director of the House Judiciary Committee, receiving this document, we can guess from the context of the time that Cline received this as part of advocacy groups attempting to gain his support in opposing the Simpson-Mazzoli bill. Indeed, a New York Times article in 1984 suggests that Cline had a large amount of influence on whether immigration bills could be passed, and that the failure of an immigration reform bill to pass the previous year was also due to Cline’s intervention (Pear 1984). Therefore, it can be assumed that any advocate for or against immigration legislation would want to bring Cline’s attention to their arguments.

As we can see in the document, the AJC was concerned not only with the rights of Jewish communities but also others; Rubin’s advocacy for immigration rights encompassed not only Hispanic groups but also later Haitian refugees (Harris 1991). The cross-cultural and cross-ethnic solidarity demonstrated by the AJC seems to be reflective of Jewish political attitudes in general: Kranson (2017) notes how American Jewish voters did not move to the right after becoming affluent (as previously predicted) but remained liberal. Indeed, in the 2016 Presidential Election, 71% of those who identified as Jewish voted for the Democrat Hillary Clinton (Smith and Martínez 2016). Kranson (2017) argues that both religious principles and Jewish people’s identification with historically excluded and marginalized groups has led to a strong history of liberalism and social activism in Jewish spheres. This statement by the AJC on 1980s immigration policy can be thus said to be an important document chronicling the historical Jewish commitment to values of social justice.


American Jewish Committee. 1984. Statement on Current Immigration Policy. Document. Box 43, The Cline Collection, Center for Migration Studies. Accessed October 8, 2018.

American Jewish Committee. n.d. “Interactive archival timelines.” American Jewish Committee. Accessed October 13, 2018.

The Forward. 2003. “Gary Rubin, ‘Passionate Advocate for the Underprivileged’, Dead at 53.” The Forward. May 2, 2003. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Harris, R. 1991. “Fleeing Haitians Failing to Find a U.S. Advocacy: Few voices among groups who once escaped oppression are raised in refugees’ behalf.” Los Angeles Times. December 3, 1991. Accessed October 12, 2018.

History, Art and Archives: United States House of Representatives. n.d. Roybal, Edward R.Accessed October 13, 2018.,-Edward-R–(R000485)/

Kranson, R. 2017. Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.

Montejano, D. 1999. Chicano Politics and Society in the Late Twentieth Century. Texas: University of Texas Press.

Pear, R. 1984. “Congress; On immigration, a power behind the scenes”. The New York Times.April 7 1984. Accessed October 13, 2018.

Plumer, B. 2013. “Congress tried to fix immigration back in 1986. Why did it fail?” The Washington Post.January 30, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Smith, G.A. and Martínez, J. 2016. “How the faithful voted: A preliminary 2016 analysis.” Pew Research Center. November 9, 2016. Accessed October 12, 2018.