The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was started in the U.S. in 1881 to help persecuted and oppressed Jews around the world find refuge. Over the years, the group has assisted more than 4.5 million people.

In recent years, the number of Jewish refugees has diminished, so HIAS has widened its reach, aiding immigrants of all backgrounds, especially the U.S.'s undocumented Hispanic population. The group is calling for federal-level reform of the immigration system and a compassionate and proportionate response to people disparagingly called "illegals."

"There is no such thing as an illegal person," Nobel Peace laureate Elie Weisel said when he visited Charleston in September.

This sentiment is one of HAIS' guiding principles, director Gideon Aronoff said during a telephone interview.

The Jewish Studies Program of the College of Charleston hosts Aronoff, who will discuss the work of HIAS, and the issue of immigration from a Jewish perspective, at 10:15 a.m. today in the Stern Center Ballroom.

The talk will be preceded by a 9 a.m. bagel breakfast in Arnold Hall, located a block away in the Jewish Studies Center at the corner of Glebe and Wentworth streets.

Aronoff has been with HIAS since 2000 and served as president and chief executive since 2006. He is chairman of the National Immigration Forum, the leading immigrant advocacy organization in the U.S.

HIAS' Washington, D.C., director, Liza Lieberman, will present an interactive program called "Welcome the Stranger" at 6:30 p.m. today in Arnold Hall. "Welcome the Stranger" focuses on the group's proposed solutions for fixing the broken immigration system, with an emphasis on public advocacy and action. Pizza and salad will be served.

Both events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit jewish.cofc.edu or call 953-5682.