2017-02-15 / Editorial

Vetted refugees must be permitted to settle in the U.S.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time set aside to memorialize victims of the Nazi regime, including 6 million Jews, President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending refugee settlement in America.

For U.S. Jews, the vast majority of whom support welcoming those escaping persecution to our shores, both the action and its timing were unsettling. The parallels between modern refugees and those turned away from American shores during World War II are chilling. Recall the German ocean liner St Louis and its 937 passengers, mostly Jewish refugees, turned away from the port of Miami and sent back to Europe in 1939. Why? Fears that Nazi saboteurs could be mixed among those fleeing for their lives were behind policies to restrict refugees.

Trump’s executive order has suspended refugee admissions to the US for 120 days to “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the US.” He wants to ban Syrian refugees indefinitely until “significant changes” are made, and has halved the annual cap on refugees to 50,000. The order is being challenged in federal court and HIAS, the former Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is helping to bring in families turned away following the executive order.

Welcoming the stranger is central to our traditions and shared experience as Jews. From our history, we know too well the dangers of xenophobia and intolerance.

Renee Redman, a New Haven-based immigration attorney who assisted one, compared their plight to Jews fleeing the Nazis. “It’s like the Holocaust,” Redman said, according to press reports. “People are fleeing for their lives and are spread out all over the world, and this has made it even worse.”

Yes, America’s safety is paramount. But let us not wrongly perceive people who are threatened themselves as dangers to our own security. We must not forget the lessons of the Holocaust.

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