Much of the Jewish community was forced into exile almost 2,000 years ago. The reception of our people must have been varied from region to region. But we know that eventually the hatred of Jews in other countries caused the killing of Jews by the thousands and then by the millions. Our own experience has hopefully taught the world how to better deal with people looking for a decent place to live and build a family.
The current administration has learned no lessons. The separation of children from their parents continues – the estimate is now almost 3,000 children. The top officials of the administration seem intent on simply discouraging immigration into this country, a country made up almost entirely of immigrants and their descendants.
The effects of separation of children from their parents, especially under the circumstances of immediate and surprise separation, will have lasting effects on these children and on the societies where they will live. These children are in extreme distress and desperation.
According to a pediatric expert, the stress will affect the hormonal system that will, in many cases, lead to long-term health issues such as heart disease, obesity, organ stress and suicidal tendencies. Progress that toddlers and other children made in personal hygiene, speech, friend-acquisition and other characteristics will be stunted or be reversed.
Moreover, in many of the facilities, there are now reports of disease and neglect. The minders at the facilities say that they are not permitted to hold babies and young children. Communicable diseases are spreading among the imprisoned. The pace at which reunion is taking place is excruciatingly slow, even with court orders to unify families quickly.
The administration is also now creating a denaturalization force of lawyers and investigators to check on whether citizens should be stripped of their citizenship and thrown out of the country. The U.S. has, on occasion, stripped citizenship from naturalized individuals, but the usual case is a former Nazi war criminal who lied about his origin.
The administration is using this occasional and draconian weapon in a highly public way to throw up another obstacle to people even considering immigration to the United States. The American people should wake up to what this administration is doing. This has very little to do with national security. America is being turned into a scared, frightful, inhospitable backwater.
The economic energy, the richness of culture and arts, the building of institutions and companies made by immigrants has made the United States the greatest nation on earth. The United States has led an era of relative peace because of the type of country that it has become in the last 75 years. We saved the world from scourges of fascism, of authoritarian communism, of economic ruin following the Great Depression and two World Wars, only to find ourselves with a leader most comfortable with authoritarian rulers, such as Putin, Erdogan and Duterte.
Some people wish to stop immigration altogether, while others desire a more liberal immigration policy. But America itself has become an idea. Even when we have had difficulty accepting immigrants, the country has been flexible enough to assimilate all immigrants into the body politic.
Almost all of us or our ancestors came to America from somewhere else. Often, we were driven by political or social unrest, or economic dislocation, or simply to find a better life or better opportunity. Others of us were dragged here in chains. But everyone has attempted to create a better place here for themselves and their children.
This is the same circumstance that has brought most of the current immigrants to America – the idea of America. We have created such a phenomenal brand that many want to join us. Granted, there are those who are coming as drug runners or human traffickers; we must deal with those with appropriate law enforcement mechanisms. But we must get better at distinguishing the criminal element from those seeking a better life – and get back to being a welcoming society.
Harold Kirtz is president of Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.