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After two years of pointedly ignoring a problem largely of his own making, President Joe Biden finally made a brief visit to the U.S. southern border in El Paso, Texas. While there, however, he saw little of the human cost of the catastrophe, as he didn’t meet or see any of the illegal immigrants who have streamed across the border since he assumed office.
But in the days before he arrived for what was little more than a photo op, Biden rekindled a controversy that has been simmering for most of the last decade. The president declared asylum in the United States a “human right”—underlined by the plight of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
In so doing, he placed those who believe the collapse of security at the border is a national disgrace and a threat to the security and well-being of the nation in the unfair position of being characterized as heartless, at best. At worst, it makes them reminiscent of antisemites who refused entry to those Jews seeking to escape death during the Holocaust.
The pernicious comparison has been a recurring theme among some on the left. It was amply illustrated by the recent PBS Ken Burns documentary series, “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” which falsely linked present-day opponents of illegal immigration, such as former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to those who closed America’s doors to Hitler’s victims or opposed efforts to rescue Jews.
It’s also a point that has been taken up by extreme left-wing Jewish groups like Never Again Action and even, to a lesser extent, by more mainstream liberal groups, such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, both ardent proponents of policies that amount to open U.S. borders. They were particularly noisy during the Trump administration, whose aggressive tactics aimed at halting illegal immigration were often depicted in the media as outrageous echoes of an antisemitic past.
In this way, calls not just for amnesty for the estimated 30 million or more illegal immigrants already living in the country, but for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), fit into a pattern of rhetoric geared towards normalizing the inappropriate analogy of the current situation to that of the Holocaust.
Liberals justifiably denouncing those on the right who likened COVID regulations to Nazi concentration camps think there’s nothing wrong with comparing ICE agents or the U.S. Border Patrol to the Gestapo, or the plight of illegals living in the shadows to that of Anne Frank.
That may seem reasonable to many who heard stories about family members’ lives as newcomers to the U.S. in the late 19th or early 20th century—or as Holocaust survivors—and consider the immigrant experience integral to their Jewish identity. But while sympathy with contemporary immigrants is understandable, the notion that the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers are in any way comparable to Jews during the Holocaust is not so much wrong as it is deeply offensive.
And the fact that the Jewish left, which is quick to cry foul whenever anyone on the right makes an inappropriate Holocaust comparison, perpetuates these outrageous assertions is more than hypocritical. It serves to skew the discussion about an important subject and diminish the uniqueness and importance of the Shoah.
The facts about what is happening at the border need to be both understood and placed in the context of contemporary issues, not those of the last century.
The latest figures for illegal immigration for November 2022 illustrate the extent of the problem. In that month alone, a record 233,740 illegals were apprehended at the border. That constituted a 1% increase over the total for October, which was itself a record for that month.
On top of that, the estimate for the number of migrants who evaded capture at the border was more than 73,000, also a record. The figure for the fiscal year for Customs and Border Protection, which ended in September, was 2.76 million, breaking the previous annual record by more than a million.
This means that since Biden came into office, there have been more than 4 million illegals crossing the border. According to every estimate for the coming year, those numbers will be topped.
Opposition to illegal immigration and a belief that stopping it is a political priority is not tantamount to racism or a repudiation of a desire to welcome legal immigrants. But a situation in which economic migrants aren’t required to follow the rules that legal immigrants observe means the end of the rule of law. That so many are now making unjustified asylum claims when few of them are in genuine fear for their lives at home further illustrates just how easy the broken system is to game.
The general perception is that Biden not only basically ended immigration-law enforcement, but he has also created a more-or-less-open border for illegals and the vast number of economic migrants increasingly making bogus asylum claims on the grounds of suffering persecution at home.
To make matters worse, much of the migration flood is being managed by drug cartels. These criminals exact fees from and use those wishing entry into the country as mules to smuggle massive amounts of illegal substances, such as fentanyl, which is exacerbating an ongoing American addiction crisis. This has resulted in one of the largest human-trafficking schemes in modern history, which has helped destabilize northern Mexico and has a negative impact on the U.S.
The fact is that among those caught entering the country have been people who were on the government’s terrorist watch list. These suspects are now coming from countries outside of Central America, making Washington’s abandonment of the obligation to maintain control of the border all the more troubling.
Of equal importance is the toll this surge is taking on border communities in the Southwest. They are overwhelmed by the cost and logistical challenge of dealing with so many people crossing into the U.S. Meanwhile, those who live in deep blue enclaves elsewhere treat this crisis as a problem for border states that they can safely ignore.
The situation is only likely to get worse if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus-spurred Title 42 order granting federal authorities the right to exclude and turn migrants back to Mexico is ended at the behest of the Biden administration. So far, the federal courts have prevented this from happening.
Though deniers of asylum to Jews during WWII are remembered as villains who, wittingly or unwittingly, assisted Hitler’s “final solution,” their offenses and mistakes have nothing to do with the effort to halt the flow of illegals. During the Great Depression, many Americans saw immigrants as both an economic burden and competition for jobs. But, at that time, there was nothing like the stream of millions who have entered the country without permission in the last two years.
Keeping Holocaust victims out did nothing to bolster U.S. security or its economy. Today’s situation is one in which the southern border is being effectively erased, calling the nation’s sovereignty into question and undermining the right of the American people to determine their laws by democratic processes.
By espousing misguided Holocaust comparisons, Biden and his Jewish allies aren’t honoring the memory of the Shoah. They are, instead, injecting an inflammatory element into an already divisive debate, thereby helping to make political discourse even more toxic than it’s already become.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.