Saturday, June 09, 2007

immigration, deportation, etc.

As a happy or unhappy coincidence, I happened to be reading "The Years of Extermination," the second volume of Saul Friedlaender's history of the Holocaust, at the same time that the immigration bill collapsed over opposition to "amnesty" for illegal aliens. Obviously the two stories are different in many respects. But allow me a few observations:

1. The drawing of a sharp, unbridgeable line between citizens and aliens or "legal" and "illegal" entrants--that is, the granting of full rights to the former and few if any rights to the latter--has an unhappy history. When the Germans deported Jews during the Holocaust, they invariably began with aliens and only later proceeded to native-born Jews, knowing that the deportation of the former would bring much less protest while setting a precedent that was hard or impossible to reverse later on. In other cases they blurred the distinction by stripping citizenship from some or all Jews who instantly became aliens on the wrong side of the preceding divide.

2. Expelling 10-12 million aliens would amount to probably the largest deportation in history. To do so one would have essentially to wage war against the Hispanic and Asian communities, creating an American-style SS that engaged in massive arrests and dragnets with little regard for procedural rights and, one suspects, not terribly much sensitivity to the distinction between "legal" and "illegal" residents who fell on the wrong side of the ethnic/racial line. The Germans themselves faced all sorts of problems until they empowered the SS essentially to go outside the law and get the job done.

3. Anti-immigrant sentiment is perhaps the clearest loser in American politics. About 2/3 of the country supported the recent bill. When Pete Wilson played the anti-immigrant card in California in the 1990s, he won one election and essentially ruined the Republican Party for the next twenty years. Why anyone would want to antagonize the fastest growing block of voters is just absolutely beyond me.

4. The Bible specifically says to be kind to strangers, because you were once strangers in Egypt. I am not a fundamentalist and don't always accept a literal interpretation. But it it hard to see how this verse could be interpreted differently.

5. Did you ever notice how many anti-immigrant fanatics have obviously foreign names. The NY Times cited someone named Thibodeaux as an anti-immigrant leader in a midwestern state. What part of England did her family come from?

Perhaps, as a low-level Republican politician, I should not put these views into print. But there are some things that are not worth doing even for votes (if they indeed exist as I have expressed doubts above). If saying a few nasty words about Jews or African-Americans would pick up votes, would we do so? Why should immigrants be any different?

I'll have more about Friedlaender's book in a later posting.


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