Texas and Illegal Jewish Immigrants

Martin and Dora Zielonka

Rabbi Martin Zielonka with his wife, Dora. Photo Courtesy of Hollace Weiner

While illegal immigration has become a hot button issue in recent years, it is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Jews were once among those who crossed the border from Mexico into the United States without documentation. After the U.S. severely restricted immigration from Eastern Europe in 1921, many Polish and Russian Jews came to the port of Veracruz, Mexico rather than Ellis Island. A good number of them drifted north to the Texas border, often crossing into El Paso illegally.  Rabbi Martin Zielonka of Temple Mt. Sinai in El Paso tried to help these immigrants, though he also attempted to convince them to stay in Mexico.

Rabbi Zielonka corresponded with Jewish leaders in New York, urging them to fund an immigrant aid society in Mexico City so these Jews would not feel compelled to enter the U.S. illegally.  He was concerned that this illegal Jewish immigration would “jeopardize the good standing” of American Jews and give nativists further ammunition in pushing for greater restrictions on immigration.

This interesting episode in Texas Jewish history is featured in our El Paso history in the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities.

 

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