Friday, July 18, 2014

Our Haunted History of Refusing Refugees

In May 1939 the German ship St. Louis left Hamburg with 938 passengers. Almost all of them were Jews fleeing the Third Reich. They sailed for Havanna but only a handful found asylum there after local Right Wingers lobbied against their admittance. Being denied in Cuba they turned their hope to the United States. Desperate cables were sent to President Roosevelt urging him to issue an executive order that would have allowed their migration to the United States. However, FDR was concerned about winning a 3rd term and 83% of the American population opposed relaxing immigration quotas. Although numerous stories were filed in the American press, Roosevelt ignored their frenzied cries for protection. Earlier that year a bipartisan group in Congress, recognizing the virulent anti-Semitism manifesting in Germany, sought to create special status for Jews fleeing Hitler. The bill died in committee.

Because America would not open it's doors to these refugees the ship was forced to return to Europe. The Jews were resettled in England, Holland, France and Belgium. As the Nazis overran the continent the Gestapo hunted the 532 former St. Louis passengers who now lived there. They managed to torture and murder 254 of them.

Today, Thousands of children are fleeing Central America in fear for their lives. Dangerous narco gangs control schools and entire villages threatening children to join or die. I personally talked to a family last year who were taking in their nephew from Honduras. He made the treacherous trip to the U.S. after a narco gang had killed his teenage brother when he refused to join them. Sonia Nazario wrote this excellent piece in the New York Times describing the chaos in these countries:

This is not a question about aiding illegals. It is a moral question about protecting the most vulnerable among us. Truly, if we can't agree to aid these defenseless children what good are we as a nation?