On Trump and Refugees

By now, there’s almost no point to writing about Trump’s stance on immigration. Everybody knows he hates Mexicans and thinks Syrian refugees are going to import ISIL to the US.  But there’s another component, which is the history of American immigration. Trump’s claim of restoring America to its “Great” roots is part and parcel with his stance on foreigners.

Up until the 1950s, immigration to the US was seemingly written by the Trumps of its day. You could only get in if you were a WASP, a Black person shipped in as a slave, or within the racial and ethnic quotas for just about everyone else. Asians basically couldn’t immigrate for centuries; United States v. Bhaghat Singh Thind, in which an Indian sued the US for citizenship on the grounds that Indians were of the Aryan race, reached the Supreme Court. (He was ineligible.) Native Americans were neither recognized as sovereign nations nor American citizens. And during World War II, not only were Trump’s proposed Muslim internment camps made a reality for Japanese-Americans, but countless refugees were turned away because of their ethnicity.

Eastern Europeans and Jews, those most endangered by the war, were considered undesirables and few were allowed to immigrate. Desperate refugees did make their way to America without visas, but were largely turned away; the 908 Jews who tried to immigrate on the St Louis were treated as the illegal immigrants they technically were. They were returned to Europe and many died in the Holocaust, a fate that could have been avoided with a simple offer of asylum. Syrians and Iraqis are in the same boat today. They’re persecuted for their ethnicity at home and turned away because of it abroad. Shunning them can gain political points for a politician who conveniently ignores the needless deaths that result. And I, for one, think that to truly make America great, we have to break this chain of xenophobia.

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