American Politicians and Immigration Policy: A Troubled History

Inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty are these words: “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-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” The poet should have put an asterisk after these lines that read “unless politicians find it inconvenient to admit certain refugees; in that case the door is closed.”


In the 1930s and 1940s, the door to the United States was closed to Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis. With the exception of the work done by the War Refugee Board in 1944 (by which time most of Europe’s Jews were dead), President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration stood by while 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

U.S. State Department excuses for not loosening immigration quotas included the possibility that Jews might be acting as spies for the Nazi government. Despite this theory, the record indicates that only one enemy agent entered the country as a refugee, and that refugee was not Jewish.

In order to enter the U.S., Jewish refugees had to endure so much government red tape that by the time the State Department approved a visa, the applicant had often been deported to a concentration camp. Even a congressional bill to accept 20,000 Jewish children was rejected because, as President Franklin Roosevelt’s cousin Laura Delano stated, “twenty thousand charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”


Syrian Refugees at Budapest Railway Station, 4 Sept. 2015. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov


At the moment, Syrian refugees are the most unpopular group in the United States. A few months ago, Mexican immigrants, all of whom politicians like Donald Trump seem to think are rapists or drug dealers, were enemy Number One, but opinions change quickly. The terror attacks in France gave U.S. politicians who did not want immigrants entering the country the perfect excuse to say, “We do not want Syrian immigrants in America. They are coming to attack us.”

Yet out of 784,000 refugees that have entered the U.S. since September 11, 2001, only three were arrested for planning terrorist activities. Only one of the three spoke of targeting the U.S., and even he had no specific plan. People risking their lives to get out of their country (and plenty, including young children, have died in the attempt) are unlikely to target a country that provides them with food and shelter.

Despite the fact that the U.S has pledged to admit only 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, even this number is too large for some politicians. Last week in the House of Representatives, 47 Democrats and 242 Republicans voted to put new security limits on those immigrants. Apparently these representatives are unaware that the security screening process is already so complicated that it takes 18-24 months (more than a year) before a refugee from Syria can ever enter the U.S.

In contrast to the reluctance of the U.S. to admit Syrian refugees, Germany is projected to take in 800,000 refugees by the end of this year. Germany–a country Jewish refugees tried to flee from in the 1930s and 1940s–is now taking in hundreds of thousands more refugees than the U.S. ever planned to welcome.

France, the country with the most recent terror attacks and the country that gave the U.S. the Statue of Liberty, has promised to continue accepting immigrants from Syria. America, the nation of immigrants, is becoming the nation of exclusion.

French Attacks about more than Freedom of Speech

I believe in the right to free speech and my right to express my opinions on this blog and elsewhere. I realize that free speech will also allow some people to express themselves in ways that I or others might find offensive.

I also believe that people have the right to freedom of religion and the right not to be discriminated against. Those last two points have been trampled on by some in France in recent years. For example, in December 2014 three armed men broke into a flat occupied by a Jewish couple. The men tied them up, robbed them, and raped the woman.

These incidents do not get much news coverage. In contrast, I can turn on any news station and see pictures of the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Some called them artists, but it is not artistic to belittle other religions through cartoons or any other medium. Regardless, murdering people for drawing tasteless cartoons is wrong.

Charlie Hebdo Shooting Press Coverage Photo by Remi Mathis

Charlie Hebdo Shooting Press Coverage Photo by Remi Mathis

In a country where fear and dislike of people who are different is increasingly common, the killers have only succeeded in making a bad situation worse. Innocent, God-fearing Muslims are much more likely to be mistreated because people will say, “See, Muslims do evil things.”

Some light has been thrown on anti-Semitism in France since the attacks on the kosher supermarket. France’s Prime Minister and others have expressed their shock. But how long will it take before French citizens again turned a blind eye to the less dramatic acts of hatred against Jews and other religious groups?

World War II Begins as Germany Invades Poland

When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, he felt sure of two things. First, he believed that Germany’s attack on Poland would be swift and successful. Second, he thought Britain and France would not respond to the attack with force. Only one of Hitler’s assumptions proved correct.

The attack was quick and it was a success. German air and armed forces were much more advanced than their Polish counterparts. Poland possessed 600 tanks to Germany’s 3,200. Unlike the Germans, the Poles still had cavalry as part of their army divisions.

In the early morning of September 1, German aircraft bombed Warsaw. Meanwhile, the German army invaded Poland from the north and south. During multiple air raids, the Germans targeted railroads, roads, and Polish troops. Villages were also bombed in order to terrify civilians. Hitler wanted the civilians to attempt to escape and thus block Polish reinforcements from using the remaining roads.

German troops breaking border barrier

German troops breaking border barrier in Polish town. September 1, 1939

Though he successfully conquered Poland a few weeks later, Hitler miscalculated British and French attitudes to his takeover. He knew that Britain and France had agreed to aid Poland in the spring of 1939 if she came under attack. Still, Hitler wasn’t very worried about a military response from either country.

To avoid war with Germany in previous years, Britain and France had already granted Hitler’s demands for German rearmament. They also allowed him to make Austria and Czechoslovakia part of the Third Reich. He thought a takeover of Poland would be followed by more peace talks, not war. Yet leaders in Britain and France had already concluded that Hitler’s demands might never end unless they threatened war.

On the evening of September 1, Poland asked Britain and France to honor their promise to defend Poland. That same day, British Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain delivered a speech to the House of Commons. He said, “Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that responsibility.” On September 3rd, Britain’s ambassador to Germany delivered an ultimatum stating that if Germany did not stop its attack on Poland by 11 AM, Britain would go to war with Germany. Germany did not respond, and Britain’s Prime Minster made an announcement on the radio that the country was at war with Germany.