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03/29/2017

I am a refugee, an immigrant and an American

Our Managing Editor, Bela Fishbeyn published a very moving account of her experiences as an immigrant to the United States. This highlights the schizophrenic nature of our nation’s attitudes and history towards immigrants and refugees. My father was a holocaust survivor. When he spoke about being a child in Germany, he commented on how all the children knew you wanted to be in the areas controlled by the Americans. The American GI’s would give the starving children their rations and sometimes a candy bar. In contrast, the soldiers of other countries were to be avoided. There was no empathy for the children from another land. The U.S. is the nation that took pride in helping others. The Marshall Plan helped rebuild a war torn world after WWII. In the late 19th Century, a time when refugees from Europe were swarming to the U.S. seeking a better life, Emma Lazarus wrote the famous poem, “The New Colossus,” that was engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, aka “Mother of Exiles” “From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome…”

“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!”

At the same time, our history is also full of accounts of racism and xenophobia. The Nazis Eugenics movement was based on the movement here in the U.S. (and England). It is not hard to find prominent figures from the 1920s and 30’ urging the U.S. to restrict immigration, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe. People from these countries were widely seen as inferior to the Western and Northern Europeans who had previously made up the country. The Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 restricted immigration particularly from these “undesirable” countries. Despite these restrictions, many in the country demonized immigrants. In a 1935, Congressman Martin Dies (D) gave a radio address entitled “America for Americans” in which he argued that “The primary cause [of unemployment] was immigration.” He argued for deportation of the millions of “aliens” here illegally and introduced a bill to accomplish this.

We can hope that the millions of stories like Bela’s from a nation of immigrants will help us resist the siren song of nativism, xenophobia and racism.

On Aug. 6, 1991, my family left the Soviet Union to escape anti-Semitism. America welcomed us as refugees….

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