I guess I’m lucky. I won’t personally be hurt if the recent ICE raids on undocumented immigrants continue, or if the courts validate the president’s attempt to ban refugees from certain Muslim countries. I’m a citizen. I’m white. I don’t “look foreign” and am unlikely to be mistaken for an immigrant or refugee.

But I cannot, must not, be silent as people who look different from me are rounded up.

I have undocumented friends, and many more friends and coworkers who have undocumented family members.  I will not just leave them to fend for themselves.

I can’t believe I even need to say this, but they are all good, caring, productive people. None came here to take anything from anyone. They just wanted to build a better life for themselves and their families, and all of them are folks that any rational person would be delighted to have as a next-door neighbor.  They make their communities better. They make our country better. They make my life better.

And today, many of them live in fear.

This must not stand.

My father and grandfather, Allan and Saul Mirken, circa 1917

My grandfather came to the U.S. from Russia as a child near the turn of the last century. I know little of the circumstances that led my great grandparents to leave everything and everyone they knew and move the family halfway across the world to the United States. But I know that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Russia was not a safe place to be a Jewish family. I suspect my ancestors would look at Syrian refugees or those fleeing poverty and oppression in Asia or Latin America and see a lot that looks familiar.

On social media and in the comments sections of news sites, I see lots of white folks acknowledging that yeah, they’re descended from immigrants, “but my ancestors came here legally!” Well so did mine. So did everyone’s up till then. At the time my grandfather’s family passed through Ellis Island, other than an insane and bigoted prohibition on Chinese immigrants, the U.S. had no limits on immigration based on nationality, race or religion.

Not until 1917 did we start imposing broader immigration limits based on nationality, an effort that reached full flower in the 1920s. Put another way, for the first half of this nation’s existence, there was no such thing as an “illegal immigrant.” And we did okay.

Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate Elie Wiesel said, “You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal.”

He was right.


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