A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS
We’re all immigrants to North America. If you go back through your ancestry far enough all of us originated in Africa. Early humans are entirely African. Humans living in the western hemisphere sprung from groups who migrated from Africa.
More recently, however, Europeans traveled west across the Atlantic and settled in the western hemisphere, bringing their families with them. The people who were already here, the Native Americans/First People, were in the way of the Europeans, and were moved, subjugated, or eliminated. The United States was founded by Europeans on a land they occupied as conquerers along with slaves brought from Africa. The first census, in 1790, claimed nearly 4 million including almost 700,000 slaves. First People weren’t counted.
Immigration to the United States of America started with its founding and continues to this day.
SOME FAMILY HISTORY: WRETCHED REFUSE
My family came to America from Eastern Europe…from what was then Czarist Russia (now Latvia and Lithuania). Three of my four grandparents arrived here in 1905-06 during a large migration of Jews from Russia. The fourth grandparent, my maternal grandmother, was born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from the same area a few years earlier.
Ellis Island Immigration Museum, with the Statue of Liberty in the background
They came through Ellis Island, and were welcomed into New York harbor by the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in October of 1886 – her raised lamp lighting the way to freedom. At her base are the words of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”…
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”
My grandparents left Russia because the economic, political, and social strain of a war with Japan had stirred a virulent nationalism resulting in renewed attacks against Jews. The anti-Jewish pogroms in 1905 resulted in thousands of deaths. Yet that same Czar who instigated the attacks on the Jewish people of Russia, conscripted Jewish men to fight his war on the eastern front; i.e. Siberia.
In a family history begun just a few weeks before his death in 1986, my father wrote,
Both of my parents were immigrants to the United States and both came in 1905 from the Baltic region of Czarist Russia. 1905 was a year of great emigration of Russian Jews probably because of the continuing pogroms in Russia as well as the Russo-Japanese war. The latter, in which Russia was badly beaten by the rising Japanese empire, sparked much unrest in Russia, increased drafting of young men into the czarist army, rising revolutionary disorder with subsequent government repression, etc.
My paternal grandfather, who died a year before I was born, was from the Russian province of Courland (aka Kurland and Kurzeme) which is now in western Latvia. According to my father’s history, he “fled to escape service in the czarist army.”
My mother’s father, who was born six months before the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, told me a story about the pogrom which resulted in the death of his grandfather. He recounted how he was hidden away and could hear the noises of the pogrom…the horses riding through the town and the shouts of people. He came out when it was over…and learned that his grandfather had been killed.
He was from the area around Daugavpils, then called Dvinsk, in the southeast of what is now Latvia. His story is interesting because, at the time of his emigration to America, he was already a soldier in the Czar’s army. My mother recounted his escape in a family history she left behind on her computer.
He had been in the Czar’s army in Dvinsk… When he learned that his unit was to be sent to Siberia, he told his father… A family plan was concocted; (1) his mother…bought him the passport of a dead man… (2) [He] told his captain that he had to go into town to mail a letter and to buy cigars (for the captain, to be sure). (3) Always agile, he raced to his parents’ home in Dvinsk where he was secretly sent to Estonia after spending a night in the hayloft of a friendly farmer.
…in the days of pogroms by the army of the Czar, it was not unusual for young men to disappear with the help of their families, emigrating to America…
From Estonia he traveled to western Europe and from there, to the U.S. The family he left behind likely didn’t survive the Nazi occupation which began 35 years later.
An image of a page from my grandfather’s
passport used to escape from Czarist Russia.
Both my grandfathers left their home and emigrated to America.
Like millions of others who came before and since, they came to the U.S. to escape religious oppression. In the U.S. they had the opportunity to raise their families in relative peace and freedom. The fact that anti-semitism was present in the U.S. didn’t dissuade them from coming here.
IMMIGRANTS AND THE “OTHER”
Nativism and discrimination against minorities and the “other” increases in times of war and economic hardship. The fascist rise in Europe prior to World War II was due, in part, to the economic difficulties of the Great Depression.
The current economic downturn is no different. Hate crimes in the U.S. have continued to increase over the last few years. Most hate crimes in the U.S. are based on race or ethnicity, however, religious-based hate crime has been on the rise with a steady increase of Muslim victims. The chart below, shows the comparison of hate crime victims based on their religion, either Jewish or Muslim. Note that for the last 15 years between 70% and 80% of religious based hate crimes have been against Jews and Muslims. After 9/11, the percentage of Muslim victims grew quickly and continues to increase. There is little doubt that, when data for 2016 is published, the rate of increase of Muslim victims will be even higher.(1)
This discrimination and hatred of the “other” isn’t new. Each new ethnic, religious, or racial group emigrating to America is subjected to similar types of hatred.
The restrictions recently placed on the immigration from seven Muslim majority nations is based on fear of the “other” – in this case, fear of possible terrorist infiltration. The United States has not experienced terrorist activities from citizens of the countries chosen for the restrictions. Other countries, where President Trump has investments, have no such restrictions even though terrorist activities based in those nations have had an impact on Americans. Furthermore, the restrictions will likely hurt Americans by disrupting the economic benefit of immigration.(2)
Of course, the purveyors of the recent upsurge in hate, scapegoating, and discrimination, including the recent immigration policy, are descended from immigrants themselves. President Trump is descended from German and Scottish Europeans. All four of his grandparents (like three of mine) were from Europe and came here as immigrants. During and immediately after World War II, a number of German-Americans were interned in the same way that Japanese Americans were (though not to the same extent or under the same conditions). The last were released from where they were held on Ellis Island in 1948.
Steve Bannon, formerly of the white supremacist site, Breitbart, is descended from Irish-Catholics who were subjected to intense discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries (see here and here).
Another supporter of racists in the administration (if he’s confirmed) is Jeff Sessions, a mostly “pure” anglo-saxon with ancestry of English and Scots-Irish. His ancestors were possibly among those who were against Bannon’s ancestors (and mine). But even the most “pure” anglo-saxon bigot in America today, has a history which extends back to European immigrants.
In addition to racism, there is, it seems, a long American tradition of bullying newcomers, immigrants, and refugees.
The German transatlantic liner, St. Louis, carrying mostly Jewish passengers from Europe in 1939
was refused refuge in the U.S. The ship returned to Europe where many died in the Holocaust.
January 28, 2017: Demonstrators at JFK International Airport in New York in support of travelers being detained.
The reaction to President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration was swift and clear. It’s unAmerican…unconstitutional…and shameful.
Inside Out and Back Again
This is a children’s book about immigration…because this is an education blog, after all. Inside Out and Back Again is a Newbery Honor Book (2012) about a child who emigrates to America.
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.
President Trump, Meet My Family
Mr. President, please remember: This is a country built by refugees and immigrants, your ancestors and mine. When we bar them and vilify them, we shame our own roots.
Trump’s Shock-and-Awe Campaign—Stand Up and Speak Out
If Trump can do all this and face no opposition, he’ll do more. Silence will not protect you. If you think what is happening to Muslims will never happen to you, you’re mistaken. We will either survive together or perish separately. [emphasis added]
Holocaust Exploitation: When the Analogy Is Wrong
Let’s be clear: President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days and blocking entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days is both a moral outrage and strategically self-defeating. No refugee has committed an act of fatal terrorism in the United States—the specter of which this directive is allegedly intended to prevent—and while applying a higher level of scrutiny to citizens of anarchic or jihad-plagued nations is certainly appropriate, indiscriminately prohibiting those who already hold visas and green cards from entering our country is absurdly overreaching and vindictive.
Everything you need to know about Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’
(1) FBI 2015 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2014 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2010 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2005 Hate Crime Statistics
FBI 2000 Hate Crime Statistics
(2) Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis
Foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event that imposes high costs on its victims despite relatively small risks and low costs on Americans as a whole. From 1975 through 2015, the average chance of dying in an attack by a foreign-born terrorist on U.S. soil was 1 in 3,609,709 a year. For 30 of those 41 years, no Americans were killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks caused by foreigners or immigrants. Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard to American life, liberty, and private property, but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism. The United States government should continue to devote resources to screening immigrants and foreigners for terrorism or other threats, but large policy changes like an immigration or tourist moratorium would impose far greater costs than benefits.