Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Nation of Immigrants – and Yet…

Holocaust era assistant Secretary of State, Breckenridge Long
I’ve more or less avoided dealing with the issue of illegal immigration. Not because it isn’t important. It clearly is. I have avoided it because it has been almost impossible for me to formulate exactly what is the right path to take.

Especially since it is my people who paid very dearly for being denied immigration to the US just before and during the Holocaust because of immigration quotas. Although it turns out that actual quotas were never filled because Assistant Secretary of State, Breckenridge Long, an antisemite was in charge of issuing immigration visas. 

He slowed immigration to the United States for hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution and murder by Nazi Germany. I am therefore very sympathetic to people trying to get into this country that are persecuted by their government.  

Reluctant as I am to discuss it, I have given it some thought, and have decided to wade into it. Although my views are not set in stone by any stretch - and subject to change,

First let me state the obvious. The punitive measures currently being used by our government against people crossing the US border illegally are inhumane! Children are being separated from their parents who are detained in virtual cages. To listen to the cry of a child begging to stay with a parent as he or she is being hauled away and imprisoned is beyond heartbreaking! I can’t imagine a greater psychological trauma to a young child than that.

The US may be acting fully within its legal rights, but it is not acting morally or with any sense of compassion. So as an observant Jew - I join religious leaders of all faiths, including every Jewish denomination - from Reform to Orthodox who have themselves joined in common cause and condemned this practice. I was also pleased to see the Agudah express these sentiments in a public statement (available at Cross-Currents).

That said I fully understand the need to limit immigration. Every nation has a right to protect its borders and serve its own interests. So unless there is persecution involved where asylum comes into play, an open border would mean flooding the country with people desperately poor seeking jobs for menial pay just  to feed their families. While we must have compassion for these people, we can’t allow unlimited immigration. It would flood the market; hurt the American worker and alter our way of life by lowering our standard of living. (I should note that it is a real tribute to the United States that illegal immigrants do so much better here than in their countries of origin even doing menial work for menial pay.)

As it stands now there are about 50,000 illegal immigrants per month sneaking into this country. Some are actually trying to escape persecution. Most are just seeking a better life for their families. And some are just plain criminals that ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law and then deported (Unless they have committed a capital offence for which they are sentenced to execution or life imprisonment.)

All law abiding people seeking a better life are welcome here. We are a nation of immigrants. But only if it is done legally. Those who don’t must pay a price for breaking the law. Unless they are being persecuted in their country of origin - they should be deported immediately upon being caught. Those who claim persecution should be given a hearing. If their claims are found to be legitimate they should be granted asylum. One thing that should not happen is separating children from their parents. That is just plain cruel.

It distresses me that this issue has become so political. President Trump is not wrong to worry about the criminal element crossing our borders. Many of those criminals are violent. It is sometimes difficult to know which immigrant is a violent criminal and which one isn’t. They don’t exactly carry signs that say ‘violent criminal’ when they cross the border. Securing the border is not an evil Nazi-like plan. It isn’t even a Breckenridge Long type plan. There should be no prejudice involved.

The most troubling aspect of the illegal immigration issue (aside from the current one of separating children from their parents) is what to do about the so-called ‘Dreamers’. These are illegal immigrants whose parents sneaked into this country bringing them in as young children. They had no choice in the matter. Meanwhile they were raised as Americans and know no other way of life. Deporting them may technically be legal - but at the same time grossly unfair and in my view - immoral!

‘Dreamers’ should be given immediate legal status and a path to citizenship. Their parents should be given legal status too. But I would not reward them with a path to citizenship, because they broke the law getting into this country. However, in cases  where persecution was involved, I would cut those parents some slack and give them a path to citizenship too. Even though they did not go through proper channels by asking for political asylum at the time. Compassion dictates this course of action, in my view.

Protecting our borders from the criminal element is a legitimate concern. As is preventing hundreds of thousands (perhaps even millions!) of immigrant per year sneaking in to simply better their lives and those of their families. Bettering one’s life by immigrating into this country is what America is all about. But it must be done legally. For those that don’t, there must be consequences.

And yet, even as I say this I am mindful of how my own people were treated when they tried to immigrate to America before and during the Holocaust because of Nazi persecution. If only more of them would have sneaked in illegally, Jewish lives would have been saved.  However, the key word there is persecution. Which the State Department ignored  because of an antisemitic assistant Secretary of State.  And that makes all the difference in the world.