“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
These words, by Emma Lazarus, are at the base of one of the most iconic statues in this country. Except for African Slaves brought here against their will, and American Indians, we are a nation of immigrants. This is what makes our country great.
Recently, the Attorney General and the President of the United States enacted a policy of aggressively prosecuting citizens of other nations committing the misdemeanor crime of crossing the border of the Southern United States seeking asylum. This policy included indefinite detention of adults and separation of children from their parents, regardless of the reason for crossing. We welcome the administration’s reversal of its new policy, and the fact that some of the children are being reunited with their parents. Yet, their fate is unclear. And now, humanitarian concerns loom after the President called for an end to due-process for refugees, not considering the fact that many of the immigrants crossing into our borders are fleeing persecution.
As the son of Holocaust survivors, I am always reluctant for any kind of comparisons in our present-day world. However, there are times when a reminder of history is relevant and important. One of the key considerations is that our current crisis situation at the border is not an immigration problem, it’s a refugee problem. Most of those coming from Central America are coming here seeking asylum out of fear for the lives of their children and themselves. This is the same reason that Jews, including both of my parents’ families, tried to escape to America; it was out of fear for their lives.
Attorney General Sessions needs to learn his history. At a minimum, he misled the American people, and at worst he lied when he stated that the Nazis tried to keep the Jews from leaving. The Nazi policy, for six years, was to push the Jews out of their country because they were looked at as inferior human beings; just as it is the policy of this administration to push the “Other” out of this country. Fortunately, my mother and father and one brother each survived the Holocaust. But my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (over 30 members of each family) were murdered in the Holocaust. Why? Because no country would take them.
On May 13, 1939, the St. Louis left Germany with 937 passengers, most of whom were Jews fleeing Germany. They had visas and transit passes for Cuba, where they would wait to get their visas to come to the United States. Cuba declined to honor the visas and said they could not disembark. They eventually let in around 30 refugees, but said no to the rest. Negotiations between Jewish agencies and the Cuban government continued for another ten days. Finally, the Cuban government ordered the ship to leave. For two days the St. Louis sailed up and down the U.S. coast where passengers could see the lights of Miami, but Coast Guard ships patrolled to ensure no one jumped over-board to swim to the United States. On June 6, the ship set sail back to Europe. Four countries said they would take the refugees. Great Britain took 288 Jews, all of whom survived the war. Three other European nations, all eventually occupied by theNazi government, absorbed the remaining 620 passengers. Over half ended up being murdered in the Holocaust.
The world made a pledge after World War II: Never Again! Never Again meant never refusing refugees fleeing persecution to come into your country. That is why in 1948 the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which was championed by the United States of America.) One of the rights in this document recognizes the right of every individual to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. They solidified that document in 1951 with the Refugee Convention, which states a basic international obligation not to return people to countries where their life or freedom might be threatened. The United States is a signator of that convention.
The Respect Diversity Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to promoting tolerance, respect and acceptance for all people, stands firm in its belief that all families crossing into the United States deserve respectful and humane treatment. We call upon the President, the Attorney General, the Department of Homeland Security and elected members of Congress to work quickly for a resolution to the current crisis their actions have caused. Especially the immediate reunification of babies and children with their parents. Further, we seek a compassionate, comprehensive and lasting immigration policy; one that seeks to fully understand the situations and needs of families coming with hopes and dreams to our nation, including those seeking asylum from persecution.
Michael Korenblit, President with Noel Jacobs, Program Director
Respect Diversity Foundation