As I read about the Syrian refugees and whether we as a country should provide them with asylum, I can’t help but think of parallels with the situation of German Jews during the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Desperate to get out, they were routinely denied access to the United States. Not only did the public clearly disapprove of accepting refugees, but the State Department callously used the bureaucratic apparatus to delay indefinitely the applications of those people who sought to immigrate legally.
Among the justifications politicians provided for their actions was that they feared German spies would pose as refugees in order to gain entry into the United States. Only after a congressional investigation threatened to expose the State Department’s policies and methods did President Roosevelt create the War Refugee Board in 1943.
Today, we view this as a shameful episode that stains or nation’s history. Fifty years from now, how will we view our attitudes and actions today?
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Assistant Professor of History, Chowan University