We all know of the escalating and wrenching humanitarian crisis of Middle East (mostly Syrian) and African refugees risking their lives by the hundreds of thousands, to cross the Mediterranean under dangerous conditions, and to endure degrading and unhealthy conditions upon landing in Europe. At the same time, a businessman turned showman has catapulted to the top of the crowded Republican field of Presidential contenders, largely by articulating the fears and prejudices of many Americans regarding illegal immigrants in this country. And Israel has had its own disheartening experience with tens of thousands of desperate migrants from Africa.
As a child of refugees from the Holocaust, who came to the US legally, but survived only by the skin of their teeth, I have much to ponder on this sad state of affairs. I also have a very conservative non-Jewish friend who’s had much to say (his wife is from the Philippines). He’s a “paleo-conservative” who despises the hawkish instincts of the neocons, and favors the views of Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul — but not Rand Paul, who has been making himself over as too much of a conventional Republican.
In keeping with our friendship, I’ve engaged politely with his views. For example, I was amused by his comment that Donald Trump should not become President, but should be put in charge of building a wall along the US-Mexico border instead. This sums up more of this view (in his own words):
I will make a factual note on the “anchor baby” controversy, because I know whereof I speak. The immigration agency is USCIS. In their official docs, they refer to “anchor relatives.” That means someone like [my wife] who can petition on behalf of her sisters for green cards. So, she is the “anchor.” Her sisters have to wait 25 [years] to emigrate because Filipinos are at the end of the queue. And Mexican moms are anchors. . . . . Because of politics, Mexican anchors go to the head of the line. Fair?
. . . I continue to admire Israel for protecting its borders & its integrity.
The rest of this post consists in my response, plus some additional commentary:
It makes sense for there to be a seasonal guest worker program. As for the “anchor babies,” I don’t know how it’s possible to end birth-right citizenship without a Constitutional amendment.
Building a high wall along the Mexican border is clearly possible and may well happen. But it’s funny that this should become an issue at a time that illegal immigration from Mexico is decreasing. Most illegals are now coming in from Central America; those who can convincingly argue that they are fleeing for their lives from criminal gangs or criminal governments should be given at least temporary asylum on humanitarian grounds — perhaps without a path to citizenship, unless they join the armed forces or do other work defined as serving society’s under-met needs, such as in public health or education in underserved communities.
(My friend responded that Mexico still bears responsibility because it permits these people to transit to the US.)
I responded further that it’s neither practical nor humane to forcibly evict 11 million people here illegally. It’s demagogic for any politician or candidate to claim that this can be done without making the US into a police state.
We should keep in mind that the US grew into an economic and political powerhouse during the 19th century when there were virtually no restrictions on immigration, except for the blatantly racist Chinese and Japanese exclusion laws. Then, in the 1920s, the modern immigration quota system was devised, favoring mostly Protestant immigrants from Northern and Western Europe over Catholics and Jews from Southern and Eastern Europe.
As we all know, Anne Frank became an icon for the victims of the Holocaust. It’s more recently been reported that Otto Frank, her father, tried in vain in the 1930s to obtain visas to the US, despite having excellent qualifications as a businessman.
My father, after a nearly three-year wait, succeeded in obtaining US immigration visas about a week or two ahead of the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia, where my parents happened to be living at the time. If they were back in Southeast Poland (Eastern Galicia) where they had come from, they would have been trapped by the Soviet invasion of 1939 and then murdered, along with their parents and siblings, following the Nazi conquest of 1941.
Even with visas in hand, however, the US consular official delayed in actually handing them over, making my father jump an entirely unnecessary bureaucratic hoop in an attempt to trip them up — as directed by his State Department head at the time, Under Secretary Breckinridge Long, a known antisemite. I mention all this because the saga of immigration to this country includes many instances of woe and injustice.
Israel has a special mission to preserve itself as the only majority Jewish country in the world, and as such a refuge for a people often persecuted as a minority in other lands. It is also a very small country, with limited resources. Still, I’m troubled that it hasn’t found a more humane way of dealing with its African refugee population. For example, it’s heartbreaking to think of African migrant children who speak Hebrew as their primary language being threatened with deportation.
This is from a recent JTA article, “As Europe takes in migrants, Israel tries to keep them out“:
. . . According to Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, more than 60,000 African migrants crossed into Israel illegally from Egypt between 2006 and 2012. The migrants, mostly from Eritrea, say they’re seeking asylum from a brutal dictatorship. Some 45,000 remain in the country.
But the government has viewed them as economic migrants looking for work and, with rare exceptions, has not recognized them as refugees.
In 2012, Israel built a border fence with Egypt, all but blocking illegal migration. It is now extending the fence along its eastern border with Jordan. Since 2012, the Israeli government has requested that the migrants in the country leave, giving cash grants to those who depart for their homes or some other African country. The government also has detained thousands of migrants since 2013 in Holot, a detention facility adjacent to a prison on the Egyptian border. Last month, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that detainees must be released from Holot after a maximum stay of 12 months.
“The state has a duty to foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers,” said the court decision, issued Aug. 11. “Basic human rights aren’t denied to a person even if he enters a country illegally.” . . .
By way of contrast, we are currently seeing Germany — of all places — welcoming up to 800,000 desperate migrants (one percent of its current population) from the trouble spots of Africa and the Middle East. The irony is obvious, of course, for a country that had turned so savagely against its one percent Jewish minority in the 1930s and ’40s.
But Germany is the largest and most prosperous country in Western Europe, facing no external enemies. It’s in the former East Germany, the still relatively impoverished former Communist “workers’ paradise,” where Germans are most embittered and least welcoming. It’s insecurity, whether in Israel, the US, Germany or anywhere– whether economic, political or physical — that breeds prejudice and bigotry.