President Trump, in a White House address, forcefully endorsed the RAISE Act, as previously introduced by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga). This is a bill that would dramatically reduce the level of legal immigration and revert back to the immigration process in place prior to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 – an abandonment of American immigration policies in place for nearly 100 years. Yet the left and the mainstream media, such as Jim Acosta of CNN, are predictably caterwauling about fairness and tossing around threadbare charges of racism. While not admitting it openly, apparently, their belief is that virtually anyone from anywhere in the world should be allowed to come into the country, regardless of economic circumstances or educational background.
However, the United States, as does any nation, has a duty to secure its borders as well as ensure the welfare and livelihood of its citizens and thus allow immigration only under terms it sees fit.
There was no greater humanitarian crisis in recent history than the plight of the displaced persons in Europe after World War II. It is estimated that over 11 million men, women, and children (including nearly 1 million orphans) were living in refugee camps and on the streets of innumerable devastated cities and towns throughout central Europe. The conditions for many were appalling, and as the entire continent lay in ruins, there was no place to turn except to the charity and largess of the people of the United States.
Nonetheless, after three years, the crisis had little abated, and the American Congress with the prodding of President Truman passed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (extended in 1950). This act allowed, over a four-year period, just 8,000 war orphans and 400,000 others, all of whom had to be displaced as of the end of the war in Europe, to immigrate to the United States, with the notable exception of virtually all German, Austrian, and Italian citizens. The law required extraordinarily stringent vetting as well as enforcement in order to make certain that those allowed to come ashore truly wanted to become productive and loyal American citizens. This screening took place not in the United States, but in the various countries of Europe.
Within the universe of the non-German, Austrian, and Italian refugees in postwar Europe, who had endured the brunt of Nazi brutality, occupation, and the death and destruction of unfettered warfare, there were few Nazi sympathizers. Nonetheless, although displaced, those seeking asylum would be individually interviewed and the validity of their documentation verified. Further, any prospective immigrant was required to show a minimum level of English proficiency and attest that he would not become a ward of the state by either a) confirming the existence of relatives in the United States who would guarantee his financial support and assure that he would not displace American workers or b) possessing a trade or skill considered vital to the nation. There was in essence a de facto point system.
Within this universe of displaced persons, there were nearly a million orphans, many of whom wandered the streets of the camps and devastated cities. Over the four years the Displaced Persons Act was in effect, just 8,000 were allowed to migrate to the United States. Each orphan brought into the country had to be sponsored by an American charitable agency and a foster home pre-arranged. Further, older children (over ten) were subject to an interview and acceptance by an immigration official.
In 1948, the population of the United States was 147 million. During the four-year period that the Displaced Persons Act was in effect total legal immigration (including displaced persons) was less than 600,000, or 0.4% of the U.S. population. By comparison, during the period of 2012-2015, total legal immigration was 3.6 million, or 1.2% of the U.S. population.
There is little doubt that the United States could take, and perhaps should have taken in and assimilated, a considerably higher number of displaced person than 400,000 out of 11 million, considering the circumstances. If the nation was as racist as many accuse, then why didn't the nation take in more migrants from Europe, as 84% of the American population in 1948 were descendants of European settlers and immigrants? And why was the vetting process so stringent for these ethnic relatives?
Because immigration policy was based first and foremost on what was best for the nation and its people, not potential immigrants.
I was one of the 8,000 displaced orphans brought to the United States. Had I not been shot and sent to a hospital and later an orphanage, I would not have been among the fortunate few. I have often wished many more had followed in my footsteps and not been consigned to the vagaries and travails of the refugee camps and streets. Yet I do appreciate, in a postwar America, with its issues of recessions and the assimilation of millions from the military back into civilian life, the decision of the leadership of the country to limit immigration.
There are many quoting Emma Lazarus's poem engraved on the Statute of Liberty as the justification for vilifying the proposed legislation. They seem to say this nation should have open and essentially unregulated immigration. But that is not what it meant to me and the countless millions who have passed its torch.
I still vividly remember a cold and foggy morning, standing alone at the ship's railing as it slowly made its way through New York's Upper Bay. The sun began to break through the mist just as the ship passed by the welcoming image of the Statue of Liberty, bathing it in an iridescent glow. I had arrived in a strange land, but one that had recently saved the world from totalitarian despotism and welcomed me with open arms. From an immigrant's perspective, the statue does not represent the trials and tribulations of migrating to the United States. Rather, it represents hope and trust in the future in a land where dreams can, with hard work, become a reality.
The time has come to put nation and all its people first and return to an immigration policy that reflects that. I applaud Mr. Trump for backing this proposal. Congress must pass this proposed law, as the inane arguments for unfettered immigration cause schisms and animosity among the citizenry and benefit no one but the political parties and major corporations.