I’m a first-generation Jewish-American whose parents escaped from Austria and the Nazi occupation just before World War Two.
My father, an only child, was sent away by his parents to England, at the age of 14, on a “Kindertransport” (literally Children’s Transport). He arrived in England not knowing the language or a soul, but was placed with an English family. With their help, he found his way toward a new life.
My mother’s father was a wealthy, fully assimilated member of Viennese high society. Yet, when things turned against the Jews in 1938, he was arrested and thrown in jail. Luckily, he was eventually freed, upon which he and my grandmother resolved to leave Austria immediately along with their two children, the younger of which was my mother. Their winding odyssey took them to Italy, then Portugal and finally to London, where they all obtained the coveted U.S. visas, arriving in New York in 1940.
My father’s parents also obtained U.S. visas through the kindness and foresight of a relative who had emigrated some time before. Once here, they sent for my father from England.
Obtaining those visas was no sure thing. As difficult as things may seem today, back in 1940, they were much worse. The State Department had its share of anti-Semites who were not particularly happy with the idea of having a wave of “those people” washing ashore from Europe. Security-minded government officials were rightly alarmed at the prospect of large numbers of European immigrants. Who knew how many Nazi saboteurs might be hidden among them, despite the 1940 efforts at “extreme vetting?”
Nevertheless, in the war-torn and difficult year of 1940, two teenagers who would become my parents received the requisite paperwork and joined the tide of over 200,000 Jews who found refuge in the U.S. from 1933 to 1945. They had no special qualifications, no specific talents and my mother did not even speak English. Yet this nation, in its wisdom, saw fit to open its doors to them.
My father joined the Army when he came of age. My mother completed high school and attended college at night while she worked to help support the family. After the war, my father also attended college courtesy of the G.I. Bill.
A gregarious individual, he found success as a salesman. My mother eventually went back to school, graduating with a master’s degree in education and going on to a career as a teacher in our local public school system.
They married in 1948, and together raised three boys, including me, all of whom attended college and eventually, graduate school. Each went on to successful and varied careers, as have our children (seven in all).
I mention this history not with the intention to pat my family or my parents on the back. Rather, I want to show that, even by the most hard-nosed and nationalistic measurement, the U.S. got a pretty good deal when it admitted those two scared teenagers back in 1940.
Far from being an economic drag, these refugees – and tens of thousands like them – created far more value than they consumed.
Set aside the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty and never mind the special place this nation has garnered in the world through its big heart. Just look at things from the standpoint of enlightened self-interest, and this nation has benefited from the energy and hard work and gratitude of the refugees it has taken in.
Which brings us to today.
Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia have recently introduced the “RAISE” (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act, which would slash the number receiving green cards in half, shift to a purely merit-based qualification system and dramatically restrict the ability of U.S. residents to bring over family members.
These gentlemen are misguided. They claim their bill will improve the lot of the U.S. worker, but it will end up doing the opposite.
Had the RAISE Act been the law of the land in 1940, my parents would not have been admitted, the economic value that they and their family created would never have come into existence and I would not be here today to write this.
Beyond that, we have President Trump, who is an expert at stirring up the fears and discontent of the population and directing them elsewhere – toward “them,” the outsider.
Many in this nation have legitimate anger and fear for the future. How convenient it is for Trump to direct that fear and anger elsewhere rather than toward the institutions and forces that are the true causes of the problem.
It’s always impressive, if sometimes terrifying, to watch a true expert at work. Trump is an expert at misdirection and fear-mongering, diverting his audience from the true and myriad problems at hand toward border walls, extreme vetting, “bad hombres” and Muslims.
Now we have the proclaimed end of DACA, and a proposal to dramatically limit the number of refugees admitted to just 45,000. We’ve seen this story before. My parents and their parents saw it in the 1930s. It is not the proper path for this great nation.
If you agree with me, please let our representative and senators know your thoughts. Tell them you won’t stand for having our government kick out 800,000 productive young people, most of whom have no memory of any nation but our own.
And tell them not to agree to fund the president’s useless border wall when there are so many other pressing and legitimate uses for our money.
Make sure that our senators hear your objections to the RAISE Act.
Now is the time to raise our voices and make sure that we are heard over the din of fear-mongering.
Larry Gross and his wife, Jill Schuman, have residences in Durango and suburban New York City. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.