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Trump's immigration policy treats "huddled masses" with cruel indifference

Aug 3, 2017

You never know, but if President Trump’s sweeping new immigration policy proposals had always been in place, I probably wouldn’t be here. Most likely, you wouldn’t either.

My paternal ancestors supposedly came from Great Britain centuries ago, but my maternal ones came from Bavaria to Michigan in the 1880s. They didn’t speak English and had no special skills, so that would have been that.

That, at any rate, is how I read the President’s proposed new immigration policy. For once, he didn’t announce it in a tweet, but in an actual three-minute speech from the White House. He would change our basic requirements for who gets in to a “merit-based” one, with those who could speak English and had technical skills given extra consideration.

The number of green card holders would be cut in half, and even successful applicants could no longer bring members of their extended families.

Well, forget for a moment the merits of this policy. One of the hallmarks of this administration has been utter ignorance of and disregard for both American history and any sense of decorum.

I had gotten close to believing that I was beyond being shocked by them, but once again events proved me wrong.

I was utterly aghast at the sneering attack an arrogant 31-year-old Trump policy advisor, one Stephen Miller, unleashed against CNN’s Jim Acosta, a senior White House reporter. Acosta, whose parents came from Cuba, asked Miller, “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant if you are telling them you have to speak English?”

The reporter also referred to the famous Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, the one that includes the line “give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Miller lashed out at Acosta, ridiculed him, and called him “outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish.” Chillingly, he also hinted that the sentiments in the poem were no longer U.S. policy, dismissing them by saying “that plaque was added later.”

But I had to laugh when Miller said Acosta was guilty of “cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree” because of the utter ignorance it displayed on that policy advisor’s part. Back in the bad old days of the Soviet Union, one of the worst insults you could level at anyone was to call them “a rootless cosmopolitan.”

Everyone knew what that meant. It meant the person being insulted was a Jew. Jim Acosta is not a Jew, by the way. But Trump’s Stephen Miller is. You have to wonder how he would have felt about his 937 fellow cosmopolitans on the St. Louis, a ship packed with Jewish refugees that U.S. immigration officials turned away, to our lasting shame, in 1939.

You know what happened to most of them.

I mentioned that under the proposed policy, my mother’s ancestors might not have been allowed in. They also wouldn’t have allowed in another Bavarian: a 16-year-old barber’s apprentice named Friedrich, who in 1885 was allowed in though he didn’t speak any English and came here to avoid the draft. But he got in, and later went back and got a wife who couldn’t speak English either. He died young in the flu epidemic of 1918, and so never got to meet his grandson.

His grandson, by the way, is Donald Trump.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.