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Hostility Toward Syrian Refugees: 1930's All Over Again? By Roger Algase

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In the face of what is now being recognized as the greatest humanitarian crisis of the current century (so far), Europe is still unable to decide how to handle the influx of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of desperate people fleeing the conflict between the murderous Assad regime in Syria and its equally, if not even more, inhuman ISIS opponents. While European countries argue over how far to open or close their borders, with Germany coming down more on the side of tolerance and Hungary at the other extreme of right wing xenophobia, the Obama administration has offered to accept the absurdly low figure of 10,000 Syrian refugees.

Even this pathetic, token figure (especially compared to Germany's offer to take in up to one million refugees) which reminds one of the fact that Canada took in only 5,000 Jewish refugees during the entire Holocaust period, is coming under fire from immigration opponents in the US, who enjoy raising the specter of terror attacks any time that immigrants from any Muslim country come under discussion. and using the mask of exaggerated security concerns to conceal prejudice.


In the meantime, drowned Syrian refugee children continue to wash ashore.

My reference to Canada's refusal to admit more than 5,000 Jewish refugees is not the only parallel that can be drawn between the hostility toward admitting Syrian refugees now and America's refusal to admit Jewish refugees in the 1930's.

Scholar and writer Juan Cole writes the following in his September 6 article:

Whether Jewish refugees in 30's or Syrians today, USA Falls Short of own ideals

"This grim landscape of racism, religious prejudice, blaming the victim and racial exclusion from immigration is deja vu all over again. In the 30s it was the Jews that the troglodytes didn't want."...

Jews were also seen by some US neanderthals as having socialist tendencies and were so kept out as radicals. There was talk of the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. (Hatred of Jews was irrational, so they were blamed for being bankers [they were less than 1 percent of bankers] at the same time they were excoriated for being Marxists). There was also the Society for Defense of Christianity, so fundamentalists did their part.

All the same arguments against letting the Jews in are now being deployed to keep out the Syrians. Not Christian. Alien ideology. Would take jobs. Nobody is openly saying they aren't Aryan but the Trumpists might as well be."


Antipathy against Syrian and other refugees fleeing for their lives from conflicts and dictatorships in the Middle East and Africa is also fueled by an excessively narrow, almost 65-year old definition of "refugee" under international law that urgently needs to be revised and expanded to deal with 21st century reality.

This will be discussed in my forthcoming post. In the meantime, I wish all ID readers a very happy Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. L'shana tova!

Roger Algase is a New York immigration lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 30 years, he has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas, green cards and US citizenship. His email is

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Updated 09-14-2015 at 04:03 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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  1. Retired INS's Avatar
    The discrimination in the 1930s was blatant racism. Immigration came under the Department of Labor and Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins received hundreds of threats because she wanted to assist Jewish refugees escaping from Germany, and Protestant ministers did not want Jews coming to America. They were very vocal and explicit. British children were welcome, Jewish children were not welcome.

    While I agree we should take many of these refugees, the reasons for not taking them are only partially related to religion. Our national security adviser are concerned about terrorists infiltrating among the refugees. This was not a concern during the 1930s.
  2. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    With all due respect to Retired INS, he apparently underestimates the virulence of the hatred against Jews which was rampant among the US population during the 1930's and well into the 1950's and even 1960's. As a Jewish student at a well known New England prep school in the 1950's (also attended by two of our recent US presidents - neither one at the same time as i was there), I had the opportunity to experience some of this anti-semitism personally.

    Under the influence of hatemongers such as Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin and Gerald L. K. Smith (the Donald Trumps, Patrick Buchanans and Ann Coulters of that era), Jews were perceived by many Americans as Communists (which some in fact were), pro-Soviet, un-American, disloyal, and part of an international Jewish (or Zionist) conspiracy to take over America and the world.

    It is also inaccurate to suggest that fears of domestic violence by immigrants were not an important factor during the period between the two world wars. The history of the "Red Scare" and the anarchist movement shows differently.

    This is not to say that security measures to assure America's safety are unnecessary or unimportant. Of course they are essential. But the only "perfect" security measure would be to close America's borders to all immigration and turn this country into a police state. Is that what America stands for?

    And is there really a significant danger that refugees from Syria, North Africa and East Africa who have risked their lives to escape from violence, terror and Islamist extremism in their own countries are likely to import the same into the US, merely because most of them happen to be Muslims?

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 09-15-2015 at 04:54 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  3. Retired INS's Avatar
    You failed to mention that even American Jewish families refused to take the German Jewish children that Francis Perkins tried to bring to American in the 1930s. I am well aware of the terrible prejudice against Jews in America, but I also saw first hand that many American Jews didn't live their faith. I was a Chaplin's Assistant in the Army (1969-70) and worked in a Jewish chapel, which was shared by the Protestant Chaplin I worked for. Many Jewish draftees came to the chapel complaining they could not be in the army because it was too hard to keep kosher. We offered them a wide variety of food we had available for them, that was kosher. When this didn't get them out, they went back to eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. We had a separate Protestant and Jewish reading room. The Protestant reading room featured Guideposts and other religious oriented materials. The Jewish reading room featured Playboy.

    I am a firm believer in protecting Israel and helping the Jews. However, I don't think you trying to play the victim card in the U.S. goes over very well.
  4. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    I think that Retired INS misses the point about America's history of anti-semitism. It was always, so far as I am aware, more directed against Jews as a "racial" or ethnic group than as a religious group. A great number of American Jews were and are not observant as far as religion is concerned, but still faced discrimination anyway, One example was the early to mid- 20th century practice of colleges, law firms and many other institutions of setting official or unofficial quota limits for Jewish students, employees, or members, etc.

    There was even a joke to the effect that some churches had quota limits for Jewish converts! I am sure that was just a joke.

    As for religious hypocrisy, that seems to be something that is common to every religious group, and has no doubt existed as long as the human race has.

    Of course, the long history of European persecution of Jews was based on religious disputes, as the terrible period of the Inquisition attests, among many other persecutions over a period of some 3,000 years, from Biblical times to our own era.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 09-15-2015 at 04:36 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  5. Retired INS's Avatar
    I didn't mean to offend you. You are correct about prejudice against Jews being more than just religious Jews. However, the persecution in the United States cannot compare with the persecution that exists today in the Middle East. I understand persecution from a historical point of view. My ancestors were forced to leave Missouri in the 1830s because Governor Boggs issued an extermination order for Mormon settlers. They were welcomed in Illinois until they started voting. My ancestors left warm homes in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1845 and spent 3 years in Iowa until they traveled to Utah in 1848.

    While in the army, a Protestant Chaplin attacked my Mormon faith and tried to convince me I was on the road to hell. However, overcoming this has made me stronger. Living my religion has brought me respect.
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