Religious Discrimination and Jewish Refugees
Writing as a legal historian, I would like to say that President Trump’s Executive Order of January 27th regarding immigration and refugees was entirely unprecedented but it was not. What I can say is that looking back at immigration laws and policies, like those in the Executive Order, we can see how they were entirely misguided and driven by racist stereotypes. I briefly want to point to two such events involving Jewish refugees and immigrants.
In 1892 poor Eastern European Jewish refugees attempting to enter the United States spent months in U.S. quarantine under the mistaken belief that they were carriers of typhoid and later cholera. Such hysteria was driven by the wide-spread stereotype that such Jews were dirty, dangerous, and that they polluted the Christian body of the nation. Protecting the nation’s security was thus mapped on to the Jewish body. At the time, no one brought a habeas petition on behalf of those detained. Rather Jewish charities and others cooperated with officials hoping that the ban would soon be lifted.
Almost fifty years later, European Jews attempting to escape Nazi Germany and occupied countries once again found United States doors closed to them. Despite the extraordinary efforts of a variety of volunteer organizations, as well as the continual private pleas of Eleanor Roosevelt, the U.S. State Department simply refused to grant visas and at times revoked refugee visas already issued to Jews essentially signing a death warrant. President Roosevelt refused to intervene with the State Department considering the plight of European Jews not America’s problem. As historians have demonstrated, the State Department at such time was rife with anti-Semitism, often seeing Jews as communist agitators and Soviet sympathizes who would not uphold American values.
In the same way that the State Department so easily denied visas to those seeking to escape Hitler’s Europe, The Executive Order carelessly, dangerously, and unnecessarily upended people’s lives. Even if the court’s eventually find parts of the order unconstitutional or a violation of statutory law, it still cuts by more than one half the number of refugees who will be admitted into the United States. Who does such a mean policy possibly benefit?
I am thrilled at the outrage of ordinary people, lawyers, and elected officials regarding the Executive Order. For those interested in a plethora of open sources material on Immigration and U.S. Policy see http://editions.lib.umn.edu/immigrationsyllabus/