First appeared in Maine Insights
I am in the midst of writing about a bit of forgotten American history in telling the story of the War Refugee Board, a U.S. Government Agency that from 1944 to the end of World War II worked to save refugees from within Nazi-occupied Europe.
In effect, among the 200,000 people it rescued were mostly Jews facing a blanket condemnation to death by the Nazis for the mere fact of being Jewish but there were non-Jewish anti-Nazis helped as well.
Today’s refugee crisis is different in various aspects but the principle remains the same. In this case, the victims are mainly the Moslem citizens of Syria fleeing from their war-torn country by the millions. The doom they faced was not as definitely defined for them as it was by the Nazis for the Jews but death is death whether inflicted from poison gas deliberately or haphazardly from bursting bombs, exploding shells or flying bullets.
Now as then, there are bottlenecks. Compassion fades pretty quickly when the numbers overwhelm like these days and fast zoom to become intolerable. Presently, European countries who have been generous to those in trouble who are mostly NOT of their religion have reached a point of donor fatigue. Borders are closing against the latest arrivals.
The United States before and during World War II took in relatively few refugees who did not meet the highly restrictive qualifications of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act. This piece of legislation essentially closed America’s doors to all but northern Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic Europeans. In contrast, the Obama Administration has just announced its willingness to absorb upwards of 100,000 safety seekers.
The previous cap was 70,000 migrants allowed annually. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced this would be increased to 85,000 next year and 100,000 in 2017.
Kerry made the announcement at a news conference in Berlin with Germany’s Foreign Minister by his side. Another difference with the handling of the World War II situation was perhaps the selection of this site, emphasizing the new role of Germany as an asylum, not a place for unwanted minorities to flee from for their lives. We all know that in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Germans were in the process of creating that horror that exploded in the by the 1940’s and took 50 million lives. Early in this current crisis, the U.S. had planned to take only 10,000 of the escapees. To date, the actual number taken in has been 1,500.
The problem the Obama administration faces is a Republican Congress that is seemingly adamantly anti-immigrant and we have even witnesses one of the contenders for the GOP presidential nomination contend that Mexican immigrants are mainly rapists and murderers. These are mostly Syrians, not Mexicans, and we haven’t heard yet from Donald Trump, the current leader in the Republican contender’s pack, on the Obama’s intention to increase the inflow from the Middle East.
The same argument that helped to stifle immigration into the U.S. prior to and during World War II – i.e. that spies would be inserted in their numbers, has raised its ugly head once more.
Even in discussions about the 10,000 Syrians originally proposed, the chattering was that they would include terrorist enemies in their ranks.
One can read the handwriting on the wall for any substantial help for the Syrians while this Congress is in office.