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The Uncivil Servant: That’s Not Who We Are?

Mitchell Abidor
November 29, 2015

by Mitchell Abidor

chinesemustgo_washington_state_hist_society_63a5fa5afc31f3121135df82b9117292.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000SO EVEN THOUGH the U.S. has only accepted 1,200 refugees — most of them women and children — from war-torn Syria and Iraq, and the process to enter this country is so onerous that it takes a year and a half to two years, plenty of time for them to freeze to death or die of disease in a camp, the House of Representatives has decided that we’re too liberal and we should block this immigration entirely.

Those on the side of the angels have said this is wrong, and almost all of them, men like Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo, end their comments by saying, “That’s not who we are.”

What history have they been reading?

This is America. Where we had the Chinese exclusion act. Where after the huge wave of immigration of the late 19th-early 20th century we shut the doors tight against racial undesirables from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe. So tightly that Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis were too many for us to handle and were turned away to meet their fate. Along with countless others we supposedly had no room for.

Screen-Shot-2014-07-02-at-8.25.43-AM-1Where the Nisei were interned during World War II. Where after the war we joined the world in placing obstacles in front of ‘displaced persons.’ Where Operation Wetback deported nearly a million Mexican workers. Where we only took refugees (from Hungary, Cuba, Vietnam, the USSR) to embarrass the Soviets during the Cold War.

Where armed vigilantes routinely man the borders.

Where we won’t allow people brought here as infants to become citizens. Where politicians can discuss building walls or monitoring refugees’ religion as a test for admission to the country.

Who we are is not the self-flattering, self-congratulatory image we are so fond of. It’s rather what we actually do.

Refusing to assist during the worst refugee crisis since 1945 is exactly who we are.

Mitchell Abidor, our contributing writer, is the recipient of a Hemingway Grant from the French Ministry of Culture for his new translation of Emmanuel Bove’s A Raskolnikoff. His other new book is Voices of the Paris Commune.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.