IMMIGRATION

By 1939, Germany
had become a very dangerous place for Jews. 
In May of that year, 937 German Jews boarded the S.S. St. Louis, bound
for Havana and a new life out of
the clutches of Adolf Hitler.

But when they arrived, the government of Cuba
denied them entry.  Most of the
passengers were not even allowed to get off the boat.  The Captain, Gustav Schroeder, tried in vain
to negotiate with Cuba,
but he was threatened with military action if he did not remove the vessel from
Cuban water.

He turned to the coast of Florida.  I am ashamed to report that the U.S.
Government offered no asylum.  In his
memoirs Schroeder claimed that while the boat was so close to America
the passengers could see the lights of Miami,
the Coast Guard dispatched boats to shadow the St. Louis
and make sure no passengers jumped overboard and swam to shore.  The Coast Guard denies it, but it makes no
difference.  The St.
Louis was turned away. 

Out of options, the St. Louis
returned to Europe. 
Some of the passengers were granted entry to the Netherlands,
some to France
and Belgium.  Shortly thereafter, the Nazis ran over Europe
and the passengers who had hoped to escape were deported back to Germany.  Most perished in the Holocaust.

It’s an awful story, isn’t it?  I was reminded of it when I saw a picture in
Newsweek of grim-faced Latino men in a detention facility, waiting to be
deported to Mexico.  Their situation is not as dire as what the
German Jews were facing, but it’s bad enough. 
No jobs.  No food for their families.  These are desperate people, who take enormous
risks to cross the border illegally and take the scuttiest scut jobs there
are.  Clearly there is nothing for them
at home.

Recently the GOP introduced a bill that would make it a
felony to enter the U.S.
without a visa, or to help an illegal immigrant.  Hilary Clinton characterized it as
criminalizing good-Samaritans, and in fact Jesus himself.  The Republican leadership has since backed
way off the felony language, though not, apparently, because they recognize the
inherent inhumanity.

Our porous southern border is problematic in many ways.  And I don’t know why Mexico
can’t put together a functional economy. 
But I can’t blame people who do what they can to make a better life for
themselves and their children.  I would
too.

I have no solution to offer, but I remember the S.S. St.
Louis.  


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40 thoughts on “

  1. The world=surreal to me these days, and our Country in particular. There has got to be a solution, but I don’t really have one either. For a Country that has prided itself on being “The Great Melting Pot” something sure stinks of crap. We’ll just change it to “The USA: The Great Pot of Crap Politicians.” Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent – I’m tired and should go to bed – but you have made some very valid points. Food for thought.

  2. Odd, I was wondering why that boat didn’t go on to Mexico. Surely closer than Europe. And then you turned the thought to folks leaving Mexico. Nobody wants that beautiful country! Just kidding – I know so many people heartbroken to have left their homes. I’m absolutely with Hillary on this. Our immigration system is byzantine, hypocritical and punitive enough as it is. And if we’re so willing to throw money at the problem of Mexican immigration, perhaps we as a nation could work to improve the options for Mexico’s poorest at home.

  3. I am a ‘documented’immigrant. I don’t know what the solution is, but i know this: I will be ticked off if people can get status here easier thant I could (when I had to jump through all the hoops).

  4. RYC: I had to laugh when I saw your comment on Flapirate’s site…because I thought that same thing (I had that everytime I was pregnant and only when I was pregnant:) lol

  5. What an awful thing….It’s hard to think about them turning away immigrants now…my grandfather was a poor immigrant who came to the US to make a better life….And while the US does have it’s flaws (and trust me I love to bitch about George…), it is the only opportunity forgeiners have of providing ANYTHING for their family…I lived in New Mexico for almost 5 years…you actually see alot of that first hand there…it was sad…seeing 8 workers crammed into a car with a door missing and no hood, just to go to work, then seeing INS raids all over the city…

  6. Very poignant post, Rabbit.  I’ve yet to form an educated opinion on this issue– or rather, my opinion is,” I don’t know what the heck should be done about immigration problems.”  But like you, I often wonder why I should be so lucky to have been born here and can’t “blame people who want a better life for themselves and their children.”

  7. crap – I thought you said you were going away for a week, so I have not been coming by, and now I see I’ve missed so much…I’ll catch up… I did the friendy thing.  Lemme know if it doesnt’ work.  Hello by the way.  Welcome back, I think? n

  8. I’ve read a few posts that offer varying opinions on the immigrant situation. Your perspective is fresh and compassionate. I don’t know what the answer is either, but I can imagine what my life would have to be like, in order for me to risk everything and move illegally to another country. But I do know that without the liberal immigration laws of the 1950’s, my grandparents would never have been able to move from the Netherlands to Canada. Their native country was too small, too crowded, and it was very difficult to find work. They, and other immigrants, endured terrible privations in order to live here. My grandparents first home was a former construction shed, completely uninsulated, in Northern Ontario, and they were expected to live there for one year with their seven children. They managed, and the family eventually thrived, but I will never foreget the sacrifices my grandparents made for their children.Thank you for reminding me.

  9. Well it’s clear that we can’t STOP them from coming.  I agree with handicap 13 that they shouldn’t just be forgiven and allowed to enter without following the correct proceedure… it’s not fair to the people who did it right. 
    I did like the alternative idea that was posed.  If they want to make things right, let them pay ALL their back taxes plus a fine.  Make sure they learn at least functional English.  Make them pass a civics exam. Then, the proposal stated that they would be sent “to the back of the line” to start a 8 or 12 year(don’t remember which) process to allow them citizenship. 
    Maybe that’s still not entirely fair to the people who really came here the right way, but it seems better than putting people in jail for helping illegal immigrants and spending tons and tons of money persecuting people who are just desperate for a job and money.  I would rather give them SOME process to help them get in our system so they’ll be paying taxes and contributing to the US rather than just sending most of their earnings back to Mexico!

  10. Nicely written.  We’re between a rock and a hard place here.  There are too many illegal immigrants to send back, and their reasons for coming are indeed compelling.   But at the same time we can’t just let the whole of Mexico empty itself across our border.
    If I were a poor Mexican, I wouldn’t have any compunction about breaking U.S. immigration laws if it meant a better life for my family.  The best solution would seem to be for Mexico to get its economic act together.  I’m not sure how we help them do that, but it clearly needs to be done.
    Until then, we need to get our act together and secure our southern border.  I’m far less worried about Mexican laborers crossing than I am about who might be crossing with them.

  11. Re: ^Bad Dogma’s comment, it seems to me the whole world needs to get its economic act together.  As long as the cost of living and of labor is so highly variable throughout the globe, people in poorer areas will try to move to richer areas and corporations will export jobs to poorer areas to take advantage of cheap labor.  I don’t know how to fix the problem, just to rant about it.
    RYC: That necklace is priced at $950 no matter who buys it (and Ms. Gates didn’t want to drop those dollars in my booth).  Of course, it could be made more inexpensively in Mexico, but I can’t live in the US on 20 cents an hour.  Like RachelsMommy, Hot Rod Man and I are considering moving to Mexico someday, though!

  12. i worked closely with the former immigration service for 2 years in the early 80’s.  training and competance vary widely between officers – so much so that one keeper of our borders repeatedly turned down my 17 year old son at the peace bridge at niagra falls on the g rounds that his canadian diplomatic id was forged.  (who would bother to forge that?  better forge a social sec card or driver’s license.)  departure records were kept in a room full of shoe boxes at the bufflo INS office.  professors at the univ of toronto medical school would be denied a trip to NYC on one day, allowed to travel on another, totally artibrary events.  
    reading i’ve done recently suggests it is no better now – (why should it be, there was never any commitment to developing a different bureaucratic culture, inadequate training, hot dogging officers, way way late to develo0p a computer system (even now the one they spent millions on doesn’t work)
    and so it goes…..
    ryc, way cool.  wish i was…..

  13. The democrats demanded the felony provision, and after they got it, used to to beat up republicans, and you are falling into their little set up. Both parties care less about what is right, only what will play in the elections this year. I bet you won’t even see any immigration bill this year. They’re just all posturing.
    But Hillary… what a piece of work. I didn’t see her getting all righteous and referencing the Bible when Bill was diddling interns.

  14.  I’ve tried to explain to people that some other things are meesed up here, that we have a vacuum, laborwise, that is being filled with illeagals. As long as citizens of this country won’t do those jobs, someone else is surely going to. How expensive would food become if agriculture jobs paid union scale? Americans love our “cheap food” policy!

  15. Theodore Roosevelt, 1907.
    As a second generation immigrant, I have to agree with this. It seems a bit harsh, and I know the typical Mexican immigrant is uneducated and desperate to help himself and his family. But so was my Dad and his family. They learned the language, went to school, paid taxes, and became American citizens. It’s the only way.
    Mexico’s government is so corrupt that it would take a very long time to get it in order and frankly, I think the Us government has enough corruption of it’s own to have the time or the resources to help very much. Those up in Washington are much too busy warring and filling their pockets to care about the poor people in our own country to help our poor neighbors.
    I have many Mexican friends who no doubt know illegals and may even have some in their families. But my Mexican friends are here legally, hold responsible jobs and speak English, or are at least learning. Our area, southeast Texas crowded with Mexican and Vietnamese immigrants, both legal and illegal. I feel for those who don’t have papers, work for low wages and take jobs that are dangerous so that their families back in their home country can survive.
    I had never heard the St. Louis story. But my Dad told of the terrible conditions on the ship he came over in and my heart goes out to anyone who tries to better himself and his family.
    My answer? I don’t have one, but I would have a hard time turning away an illegal who came to me for help. I suppose I’d be a felon too.
    Way to go, Hillary.

  16. Oops.  Here’s T. Rooevelt’s quote I somehow left out of the above comment.  
    “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
    Theodore Roosevelt, 1907.

  17. Good for you!! Good article, and it sadly demonstrates the inhumanity of some of our (or our government’s) thoughtless actions. I also wrote a blog article last week on the criminalization of illegal immigration (Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid) and what impact it might have on citizens who inadvertently help these people. They would also be criminalized. You are right, they have backed off this language, but the intent hasn’t changed. It is easy to incite outrage against illegal immigrants, but at its base is just another form of racial discrimination. I wonder how much the political machine is bringing up these issues and arguing these points in an effort to get people heated up so we won’t have time and energy to argue over things like how the Iraq War is so wrong and the injury it is doing to our economy, or how right or wrong it is to attack Iran…  etc etc etc.
    (Oh, and the previous post by yorel that says the democrats proposed… no “demanded” the felony provision. WRONG!!!)

  18. The awful thing is that the failing Mexican economy is (I would argue) a direct result of (among other things) US and international policy choices… most specifically NAFTA. So the US wonders what to do about the “immigration problem”—build fences? outlaw good samaritan work (my friend is currently facing felony charges for helping three near-death border crossers find medical help)?—and we never address the fact that our own geopolitical choices are perhaps causing the problem to begin with.Not to mention that our own economy depends heavily on the work of these undocumented workers. The xenophobic rhetoric promoted by Colorado crazy Tom Tancredo blatantly ignores the US role on Mexican migration… and the fact that without it, our economy wouldn’t be able to function.And all this crap about Mexican immigrants being a drain on our social welfare system… fuck. These people pay taxes, for chrissakes! Making people “legal” would mean even more taxes!Sorry. You’ve hit a button here. I’ve wrote many an essay on this topic in college…

  19. Thank you so much for posting this.  I’ve been on this side of the fence on the immigration issue from the beginning, even though there are powerful arguments on the other side that I can’t refute.
    RYC:  Yes and no.  She deserves beating up, but I don’t want you to.  Anyway, that’s been done by an expert (momofjenmatt), and you can look in her guestbook for a little more, and I can tell you heaps more if you want (though Laura wisely advises me to let it go, which is partly why I wrote about the Campfire), BUT … it won’t do a bit of good.  I need to talk about it, but I need not to obsess about it, and I need not to make matters worse than they already are.  Oops, that gives a bad impression.  Things are not that bad, if I look at them in the right way:  namely, that I have zillions of beautiful friends here in Xangri-la, and the ones who won’t let me into the campfire circle?  I do not need them.

  20. Wow, I just read all of what you wrote, instead of only (correctly) surmising the gist.  I saw a film about the S.S. St. Louis voyage you speak of.  “Voyage of the Damned,” I think it was called.  I think it was a TV Movie of the Week, but it might have been a film with theatrical release, I don’t remember.  So long ago. 
    This was just a really powerful write, and thank you again for posting it.

  21. Funny… Dem & Rep. both want them here, then again they want them out. Too bad half a mill Mexicans can’t march on reforming Mexico with all it’s vast resources. I sometimes wonder where the bs begins and ends.

  22. According to the history books I read on WW2, (of which I have a lot) most of the people on that boat were children. Can you imagine the US turning away children, and then letting them die at the hands of murderous Nazis? I can, because the US government condoned infecting black sharecroppers (in the 50’s I think)with a virulent form of a venereal disease without their knowledge. Used them as guinea pigs and didn’t bother to tell them.
    There is no easy answer to the immigration problem, and like happened in 1986, there will be a lot of talk and nothing really done about it.

  23. A lot of my family, my grandparents generation, died in the holocaust.
    Funny thing is that the American economy cannot maintain its buoyancy without cheap labour – a certain amount from the third world, but its even cheaper at home, and extremely cheap when you have illegal immigrants to exploit.  Imagine the prices of American-made non-luxury goods if all the workers had to be paid gvt. minimum wages and benefits?  Its all just political scaremongering.

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