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Liberal Jewish groups need to own the disaster at the border

With rules they called “cruel” about to expire, arguing that the surge of illegal immigrants posing as asylum seekers is analogous to Jews fleeing the Nazis has to stop.

Thousands of migrants seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Dec. 21, 2022. Credit: Ruben2533/Shutterstock.
Thousands of migrants seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, Dec. 21, 2022. Credit: Ruben2533/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

It’s not as if no one saw this coming. Ever since President Joe Biden took office and began rolling back the tough anti-illegal immigrant measures employed by his predecessor, security at America’s southern border has been largely curtailed in a historic dereliction of duty that may have no precedent in U.S. history.

The result has been a surge of a record 3 million illegals crossing into the United States. That has created a humanitarian crisis in those states faced with dealing with this enormous influx of people. And it is something that has only gained attention as a result of Republican governors in those states bussing some of the illegals to Democrat-run cities in the north so those who opposed former President Donald Trump’s stands on the issue can also play a part in coping with the crisis.

Yet as bad as it’s been, the situation is about to get exponentially worse. At the stroke of midnight as Friday, May 12 begins, Title 42—a heretofore obscure provision in the Public Service Health Act of 1944 giving the government the power to exclude people from the United States during public health emergencies—will expire. It was this rule that allowed first Trump and then Biden to prevent the entry of illegal immigrants posing as asylum seekers and to swiftly expel some of those who are caught when entering the country. That reinforced Trump’s hard line that kept the problem under control during his administration; it also kept the border catastrophe that Biden incited with his more “compassionate” policies from getting even more out of control than before.

But with the coronavirus pandemic officially over, Biden won’t be able to lean on Title 42 to limit the damage that his public stands have caused so many people to believe that they could enter the United States without permission. As The New York Times reported, anticipation that the rule is about to expire has set off another surge of illegals who anticipate that they will be able to claim asylum in the United States as refugees.

Congress is scrambling to find some way to reinstate the rule in some form, though the effort is doomed to fail because of partisan differences over the issue. But while the two parties appear more focused on blaming each other for the mess, among those who also deserve some of the opprobrium for the ongoing disaster are organizations that purport to represent the Jewish community.

From the outset of Biden’s administration, groups like the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, HIAS, the left-wing rabbinic group T’ruah and the Anti-Defamation League have been calling for the revocation of Title 42. They’ve called it “cruel” and unfair, and have responded with anger when Biden—acting out of a desperate desire to avoid what’s coming this week—extended the rule for as long as possible even though everyone knew the pandemic was over long ago.

In a very real sense, the liberal Jewish establishment is as culpable as anyone in the administration for what is about to happen.

Why is there some kind of Jewish consensus in favor of a policy that is clearly against the country’s interests as well as creating untold human distress for those involved?

The liberal stand on immigration stems from the history of the community. Most American Jews are descendants of those who came here from Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries during the last decades of mass legal immigration to the United States.

That immigrant mentality remains deeply rooted in Jewish political sensibilities. It is also an expression of a belief that the ideal stand on immigration to the United States was the state of affairs before the passage of the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, which placed severe restrictions on entry.

When placed in historical context, the Johnson-Reed Act was an inevitable development given that the conditions that demanded unlimited immigration for a country desperately in need of people to settle empty land and work in labor-intensive industries had already begun to change in the 1920s. Support for restrictions on immigration would become a matter of national consensus only a few years later when the Great Depression struck in 1929 and the notion of importing more people to compete for jobs in an era of massive unemployment made no sense.

Unfortunately, at the same time that most Americans were deeply opposed to liberalizing immigration laws for economic reasons, the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany created a desperate need to open the gates to endangered European Jews. Sadly, the United States never relented in its refusal to act to save Jewish men, women and children fleeing for their lives.

That is why so many Jews still react to this question as if those who support restrictions or rigorous enforcement of the law are the moral equivalent of those who turned away Jews during the Holocaust, thus dooming them to death in Hitler’s inferno.

In this way, liberal Jews groups tend to speak of the millions streaming to the southern border looking for economic opportunities as if they were no different from the victims of World War II.

Policies have caused enormous human suffering

Central Americans who view America as a land of opportunity do have some things in common with Jews who arrived at Ellis Island a century or more ago. But the notion that any but a small minority of them are in any real sense refugees, as opposed to economic migrants, is risible.

Open-border policies and Democratic promises of amnesty for what may be as many as 30 million illegals already in the country seem to be based on an idea that borders are themselves wrong, and that free passage for those who want to try their luck in the United States is necessary.

Jewish groups who advocate for this position, however, are ignoring that the mass illegal immigration wave that they have done their best to encourage is being largely dominated by the actions of illegal drug cartels that control the Mexican side of the border, and who traffic in both people and the fentanyl that has fueled an addiction crisis throughout the United States.

They are equally oblivious to the way that the illegals are exploited by cartels, as well as by others in the country who have created a situation where underage migrants are being used for illegal child labor. The only way to deal with this is not by reforming our treatment of illegals but by shutting down the flow of them to the border.

The irony here is that well-meaning left-wingers aren’t just pushing for open borders; they have been advocating for policies that have directly caused enormous human suffering.

Some liberal Jewish groups continue to pretend that the process isn’t being gamed by a population that while certainly desirous of a better life in the United States does not fit the traditional definition of an asylum seeker. The answer isn’t a more compassionate asylum process but a shift in the laws that would make it harder to make such false claims and to ensure continued swift deportation for those who break the law. And with that must come the recognition that these groups of people are not in fear for their lives the way European Jews were during the Holocaust.

So as the images of government dysfunction and the massive flouting of the rule of law accumulate in the coming days as the end of Title 42 creates a new border crisis, those who have advocated for this disaster ought to acknowledge their error. It is long past time for Jewish organizations to stop acting as if it were 1938 when speaking of immigration and asylum laws. By pushing for open borders and amnesty, they have helped create the conditions that made the fiasco at the border inevitable. As the situation unravels, it’s time for liberals to own the mess they made and to stop calling for measures that will only make it worse.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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