There is no mystery why American Jews have been among the most vocal and vociferous to oppose Trump’s Muslim Ban and to support taking in refugees fleeing war, political oppression and climate catastrophes, and immigrants. All but Native Americans share the immigrant experience (Indians forced to suffer that fate, as well, by the Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act). But in the case of Jews (Israelites, Hebrews before), an entire history, pretty much, has been spent as immigrants.
That story is top of mind at Passover, a story which begins not with consciousness of being a distinct people (“other” in the framework of the Pharoah), enslaved for 400 years, then the object of a decree to kill male babies born to Hebrews. No, the story begins with how the Hebrews came to be in Egypt. In the first place, as refugees from famine.
“You must neither wrong nor oppress a foreigner living among you, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21, CJB)
Over the millennia, the history of the Jewish people has been one lived mostly in Diaspora. I don’t think there is any ethnic group – except perhaps Romani (gypsies) – who have been in a perpetual state of migration and emigration. Most Jewish Americans are only one or two generations in this country, and recoil with horrific memory how Jews trying to flee the Nazi Holocaust were denied refuge. And so we understand intimately what the greatest wave of refugees since World War II are experiencing.
It is stunning that Trump, who apparently was blind to the 500,000 Syrians murdered by the Assad regime over the past six years and said that “human rights” would not figure into foreign policy such as selling arms, suddenly was “moved” by the images of children being gassed and dying a slow torturous death. Probably more for the political optics (the pretense of standing up to Russia, so how could he have colluded?, and strut his legendary toughness to his base), Trump launched a pinprick bombing raid on the air base from where the Assad air force launched its attack, apparently without actually damaging it or even interrupting operations (or any Russian assets), because immediately after, the Assad regime launched new “conventional” bombing attacks from that base on the same city, and without regard for the “what happens next?” question (like North Korea stepping up its bellicosity).
But Trump apparently doesn’t actually care about the children murdered in “conventional” ways, or the five million Syrians forced to flee their homes rather than suffer at the hands of Assad or ISIS, or the children drowned at sea in their frantic flight to some promised land. Instead, Trump has barred any Syrian refugees from coming to America and likely will not spend a dollar of foreign aid to assist the millions of refugees living in horrid, hopeless conditions in camps in Turkey and Jordan, and has said he would cut funding to the United Nations.
Trump is doing the age-old politically popular thing of demonizing immigrants and refugees. In the 1920s, an anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement that grew up to counter the record numbers of immigrants that flooded the US, launched the Palmer Raids (curiously, mainly focused on expelling Jewish immigrants who were equated with Communists).
In addition to his blatantly unconstitutional ban on immigrants, refugees and travelers, Trump has unleashed raids that have gone into neighborhoods, terrorizing families who are fearful now of stepping out their door to go to work or buy groceries. Even Dreamers, who freely gave their identities in order to get some assurance of being allowed to attend college and work, are being rounded up for deportation.
These people are not being given the rights that would be a citizen’s rights, under the notion that the Constitution only protects citizens.
Governor Cuomo has a different perspective and stated “We are a nation of laws” and these people have the right to legal representation, so has set aside $10 million in the state budget for legal aid.
Meanwhile Trump is asking Congress for $3 billion to fund its deportation crusade.
There is a solution that would honor what most Americans believe are our values, our moral code: a path to legalization for the estimated 11 million undocumented who are here but are still undocumented and living in the shadows because of the purposeful breakdown of the legal immigration system. But there should not be an automatic path to citizenship, as the Democrats have insisted, which is why comprehensive immigration reform has failed. Legalization would involve extensive interviewing (vetting) of individuals to provide assurances that they are not involved in any criminal or nefarious behavior (beyond being in the country without documentation). They would be allowed to get drivers license, attend school, participate in universal health care, get jobs, pay taxes like anyone else, and have the same civil rights and protections as any other American. But not vote unless the now legalized immigrants have fulfilled the requirements for naturalization.