Great Neck, It’s Time to Change our Attitude Toward Undocumented Immigrants

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Brenner Yells, ’21, argues why accepting immigrants an integral part of the American, and even Jewish, fabric. (Image Source:

Brenner Yellis, Associate Editor

Great Neck is a town of immigrants. Among the different demographics of our town’s population, one thing is common: being an immigrant or a recent descendant of immigrants. Great Neck residents, and even students at North, come from every continent, all walks of life. Our grandparents and their parents are Holocaust survivors, survivors of pogroms and violence. More recent immigrants are escaping persecution and poverty, seeking a better life in Great Neck. So, if we are all united by our past, why are so many of us hostile towards immigrants?

Anti-immigrant sentiments have been visible very frequently in recent times. Whether it is political leaders attempting to bar immigrants from entering via wall, or local citizens telling others to bring certain identities “back to China,” there has been an uptick in xenophobic sentiments towards immigrants, particularly those from Central America.

Political leaders, such as president Donald Trump, have labelled all Mexican people as criminals, drug traffickers, and rapists. He has labelled all immigrants from Haiti as being infected with AIDS, according to the New York Times. While, for many Americans, his racist attacks are not received well, some believe that these generalizations are true.

Now, with that being said, immigrants to this country have committed violent crimes. However, undocumented immigrants, the immigrant group mostly targeted by Trump and his allies, commit crimes at a rate that is much lower than that of native-born Americans.

The Cato Institute reported that in Texas, a state with a sizable population of undocumented immigrants, “there were 50 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans…in 2015.” Many undocumented immigrants in America are here searching for a better life, a life in a country that guarantees its residents “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In their home countries, many immigrants face persecution, or even death. This was tragically true in the case of former Austin resident Juan Coronilla-Guerrero. Federal judges were warned by his wife that if he was deported to Mexico, he would be killed there. She was proven right when, three months after his deportation to Mexico, he was found murdered.

Admitting undocumented immigrants to the US saves lives. After reading the news of Coronilla-Guerrero’s death, one may be reminded of the 254 passengers of the MS St. Louis who perished in the Holocaust after their ship was turned away from the US.

They were innocent civilians who could have been saved by our country, but we turned our backs on them.

We betrayed them, and they paid the ultimate price.

If we continue to deport and turn away immigrants from countries torn by violence and poverty, they will face fates similar to those of the 254 passengers.

Many of the people who immigrated to Great Neck are Jews who were escaping death, just for being Jewish. As Jews, we have a history of being persecuted for that very reason.

Personally, ancestors of mine hid in closets to avoid pogroms that occurred in their towns. This story most likely applies to many of our Ashkenazi residents.

So, with our history, how can we turn away innocent civilians facing similar prospects in their home towns?

Just as we were, our parents were, our ancestors were, folks immigrating through our Southern border are escaping violence, persecution — and death.

Therefore, our community must emphasize with undocumented immigrants.

We must support them. We must embrace them as our American brothers and sisters.

Not doing so would be antithetical to our human values of compassion and kindness, and, for the Jews in our community, the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger to our land into our community, for we were once strangers in Egypt.