Saturday. January 27, 2018. Holocaust Memorial Day. Please hold this in mind as we look at the administration’s proposed immigration legislation. Now, please notice the immigration restrictions in the latest White House immigration proposal:
“In addition to the citizenship path that would take up to 12 years, the White House framework includes a $25 billion “trust fund” for a border wall and additional security upgrades on the southwestern and northern U.S. borders. And the president is proposing terminating the ability of U.S. citizens to petition for permanent legal residency “green cards” for parents and siblings, limiting the family visas to spouses and minor children.”[WaPo]
The petitions mentioned in the proposals are meant to reunify families, or in the pejorative “chain immigration.” Family visas are to be limited to spouses and minor children.
A Trip Down A Dark Memory Alley
Flashback: We are in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the pogrom in November 1938 in Nazi Germany. Nazi policy is now obvious, if it wasn’t before. Unfortunately, so was US immigration policy:
“Anti-Semitism fueled by the Depression and by demagogues like the radio priest Charles Coughlin influenced immigration policy. In 1939 pollsters found that 53 percent of those interviewed agreed with the statement “Jews are different and should be restricted.” Between 1933 and 1945 the United States took in only 132,000 Jewish refugees, only ten percent of the quota allowed by law.
Reflecting a nasty strain of anti-Semitism, Congress in 1939 refused to raise immigration quotas to admit 20,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi oppression. As the wife of the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration remarked at a cocktail party, “20,000 children would all too soon grow up to be 20,000 ugly adults.” [GL.org]
The 1939 refugee children’s immigration bill was bi-partisan, sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) and on the House side by Rep. Edith Norse Rogers (R-MA), and it garnered significant support from national leaders. However, then as now it didn’t have the support of the America First crowd.
“…the opposition struck back with calls to, yes, put America first.
“Protect the youth of America from this foreign invasion,” thundered John Trevor, the head of the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies, a restrictionist organization with a reach of about 2.5 million members. Trevor had built a career for himself by railing against rising immigration and its pernicious effect on America’s national character. He helped shape the 1924 Immigration Act, which established the restrictive quota system that was explicitly designed to curtail Italians and Jews, excluded the Japanese altogether, and stood as U.S. policy for 40 years.” [Slate] (emphasis added)
The bill did manage to get a hearing, but the opposition was active and loud and ultimately successful:
“In April 1939, a joint Senate-House committee held four days of hearings on Wagner-Rogers. Sympathetic witnesses offered moving humanitarian pleas. They also stressed that children would not compete with American citizens for jobs. Nativist opponents presented standard anti-immigration claims as well as innovative assertions such as the claim that the wording of the bill could enable 20,000 Nazi children to come to the U.S. Therefore, they claimed, the effect of the bill would be to tear German families apart. The Senate and House subcommittees both voted unanimously in favor of Wagner-Rogers.” [JVL]
The committee votes weren’t sufficient. By July 1, 1939 the bill was dead, pigeonholed in committee. The shadow of the 1924 Immigration Act remained a feature of American policy, first expressed in 1790 when the government declared immigration was only acceptable if the applicants for citizenship were “free white persons of good character.” [NYT] The re-establishment of the KKK, the disillusionment after World War I, the virulent anti-Semitism of Father Coughlin, and the association in the public mind of Jews and the Communist Party (or other efforts for labor organizing) all combined to keep the ugly shadow firmly over American horizons. The 1930’s were particularly vulgar:
“In the 1930s, even as Americans regularly read news about Jews being attacked on the streets in Nazi Germany, there was no national appetite for increasing immigration. As the waiting lists for U.S. immigration visas swelled, so did anti-Semitism in the United States. In 1939, Sen. Robert Reynolds of North Carolina (who ran his own anti-Semitic newspaper, the American Vindicator), proposed bills to end all immigration for five years, declaring in a June 1939 speech that the time had come to “save America for Americans.” [The Hill]
Sound familiar? Substitute Jewish, Italian, and Eastern European for Mexican and Muslim, and the similarities are obvious. “They” were anarchists (the terrorists of the day), agitators (the labor organizers, protesters, of the day) and worse still some of them were active in Civil Rights organizing (read: improving the status of women and African Americans).
So, consider for a moment on this Holocaust Memorial Day how the Temple B’nai Israel in Victoria, Texas handed over the keys to its building to the congregation of the Victoria Islamic Center in the wake of an arson attack on the Center, February 2017. [CNN] Or how in that same month a Muslim organization launched a fund raising campaign to help pay for the damage done by anti-Semitic vandals to a Jewish cemetery. [NYDN]
At this point it’s appropriate to ask: Which voices are we heeding? The voices of Muslims and Jews in Victoria. Texas? Or the virulent rantings of the hateful vestiges of the short-lived Vindicator?
Are we to exclude family members from dangerous territories because they aren’t “family?” Because they are adult siblings of US residents and citizens? Because we don’t want to allow US residents/citizens to rescue their parents or their grandparents? Because we might be “flooded by the ‘ugly adults'” if we allow the rescue of little nieces and nephews? Are we hardened against allowing a US citizen from sponsoring a family member who wants to come to this City on a Hill to work hard and follow the American Dream?
We have some choices to make in 2018, not the least of which is whether we are to be that City on the Hill or the stockade of anti-Semitism of years past transformed into an over-sized gated community of anti-immigrant sentiment opposed to allowing anyone not “free white of good character” to share in the creation of the country in the 21st century?