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Photo of Keith Mestrich

Keith Mestrich

Former President & CEO

The debate surrounding immigration has always been a lively one wherein politicians have presented arguments advocating for everything from amnesty to closing the borders. Over the years, compromises have been made that call for tighter border security but have also made legal immigration a less laborious endeavor. Inherent in these deals was an understanding that, despite the laws on the books, those who hadn’t committed serious crimes would not be imperiled. Now, as a result of newly signed executive orders, undocumented workers are staying shacked up in their homes in fear of being deported while bringing their children to school, driving to the grocery store or going for a check-up at the doctor. This is not the type of immigration reform we want to see nor is it the America we want to live in.

Amalgamated Bank was founded in 1923, just two years after the signing of the Emergency Quota Act, which put into law a system that restricted the number of immigrants admitted into the US based upon their nation of origin’s representation in the US already. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the union from which Amalgamated Bank was founded, was made up of predominately immigrant garment workers who felt the effects of both the discriminatory approach Congress had taken and the fiscal implications that came with it. Rather than continuing the trend of shunning immigrant workers and families, Sidney Hillman chose to embrace immigrant populations and founded Amalgamated Bank to give these individuals safe and reliable access to banking.

The Emergency Quota Act, with some tweaking, remained in place until 1965 when Congress replaced it with a preference design system to attract skilled workers and unite immigrant families. In 1986, Congress took further action providing amnesty to a certain subset of immigrant workers and in 1990, expanded the legislation passed in 1965. Since then, little bits and pieces of bipartisan immigration reform have passed with an eye towards a globalized economy and the need for skilled labor while also protecting the border.

Now, with a shift towards policies reminiscent of 1921, we must call on our allies from the nonprofit sector and advocacy groups to do the brave work Amalgamated did years go. Youth groups like United We Dream must continue to organize and advocate for fair treatment. We need the New York Immigration Coalition to pursue policy objectives that protect immigrant populations. And through the Hispanic Federation, we must continue to strengthen our Latino institutions. We’re proud to call these groups our clients and allies and we’ll continue to serve as both their bank and their ally to ensure that they’re able to provide for those who need them most.

Together, we’ll work to create a fair and inclusive immigration policy that we can all be proud of that frees immigrants from the shadows.