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Leger Fernández Leads Letter Advocating for Constituents Impacted by Spain’s Right of Return Law

October 7, 2021

 

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández (NM-03) led several of her House and Senate colleagues in a letter to the President of Spain to investigate and eliminate the bureaucratic barriers that have caused thousands of rejections under Spain’s Law of Return, impacting constituents who are descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled during the Inquisition. 

“This situation adversely affects our constituents and strains the bonds between our Nations,” the members wrote in the letter. “We respectfully urge you to investigate and eliminate arbitrary bureaucratic barriers that have made it nearly impossible for Sephardic Jews to be approved after spending countless hours and thousands of euros to take advantage of this important program.”

The Members acknowledged that the Law of Return was a remarkable gesture that showed the world how to properly atone for the sins of the past. However, this year, thousands of people have been rejected and even more have not received a response after Spain changed the rules for application after documents had been certified and submitted.

“We urge you to rescind these changes and ensure that every eligible Sephardic Jewish descendant can receive citizenship to their ancestral home under the law as the Cortes Generales intended,” stated the members. 

Joining Rep. Leger Fernández on the letter are Reps. Andy Levin (D-MI), Mike Levin (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-NY), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-NY), and Senators Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). 

Read the full text of the letter below.

Dear President Sánchez:

As Members of the United States Congress, we write to share our concern over the recent wave of rejections under Spain’s Law of Return. This has made it nearly impossible for the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Spanish Inquisition to receive Spanish citizenship. This situation adversely affects our constituents and strains the bonds between our nations. We respectfully urge you to investigate and eliminate arbitrary bureaucratic barriers that have made it nearly impossible for Sephardic Jews to be approved after spending countless hours and thousands of euros to take advantage of this important program.

Spain’s passage of the Law of Return in 2015 was a remarkable gesture. In 2015, King Felipe VI gave a speech where he welcomed Sephardic Jews and their descendants back to Spain, “Dear Sephardim, thank you for your loyalty …” he said. “Thank you for having kept like a precious treasure your language and your customs. They are ours too. Thank you too for making love prevail over rancor and for teaching your children to love this country.” He continued saying, “How we’ve missed you … I want to tell you today that you’ve come back home – your own home forever.”  

Spain showed the world how to atone for the sins of the past.

Over 59,000 people from across the world spent considerable time and thousands of euros fulfilling the rigorous requirements of the application process. Before this year, only one person had been turned down and some 34,000 have been accepted. This year, thousands have been rejected and even more haven’t received a response. Although Ambassador Cabanas has stated to our offices that the process for granting nationality through this channel has not changed, it appears that there are numerous changes that have caused rejections, including: 

  1. Overriding the Notarios’ lawful power to verify Sephardic ancestry;
  2. Denying certificates of Sephardic origins issued by Jewish organizations authorized by Spain for the task;
  3. Changing the requirements of the genealogical documents that had already been submitted; and
  4. Retroactively requiring the ‘special connection’, which included donations made to Spanish charities, must have occurred BEFORE the law was enacted in 2015.

Applicants from around the globe followed the rules Spain required only to have the rules change years after all their documents had been verified and submitted. It is most disconcerting that these new requirements were implemented after the overwhelming majority of applicants signed with the Notarios. We urge you to rescind these changes and ensure that every eligible Sephardic Jewish descendant can receive citizenship to their ancestral home under the law as the Cortes Generales intended.

We write because our constituents have reached out to us as descendants of those Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition. They believed in Spain’s promise of reparation. Spain’s apparent administrative rescission of that promise is heartbreaking to them. The broken promise of the noble gesture of reparation wounds more than if Spain had never made the offer of return in the first place. 

With utmost respect for your attention to this concern, we remain,

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