Nearly a century ago, my great-grandparents came to the United States along with my grandparents—who were grown adults—and my father, who was an infant.
They arrived on the heels of the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted immigration of—among other religious and ethnic groups—Eastern European Jews. The act was fueled by xenophobia and anti-Semitism: those who passed the law felt that immigration upset the “ethnic composition” of the U.S. population and that it was important to “keep American stock up to the highest standards” by excluding Eastern Europeans and Jews. They believed that people like my grandparents would spread “feeblemindedness” throughout the nation.
So when my family arrived from their little village in Poland, which they fled due to hatred and persecution, they arrived in a nation where many people viewed them as incapable of being American because of their background. Despite this hate-fueled anti-immigrant law, my father and his parents were able to thrive here. To build a life for themselves and to make new roots. To start anew. My great-grandparents, though, were never able to settle. They were older and found the language and surroundings difficult to bear. The forced assimilation and anti-Semitism they faced overwhelmed them, so they returned to that little village in Poland.
They were later killed in the Holocaust.
They weren’t alone. More people left the United States than arrived here in the mid-1920s because of harsh restrictions for immigrants.
I share this story with you not because I think you need a history lesson. I share it because we’re up against similar hateful policies today. The people backing them may not be as overt about their intentions, but there’s no denying that the sentiment is the same. We must not allow anti-immigrant laws and racial intolerance to continue eroding our nation’s core values.
It’s 2018. And the moves I’m seeing from our leaders confound me, because they’re not unlike the moves we saw in 1924.
Just two weeks ago, the Michigan House of Representatives passed polarizing and politicized legislation to make English the official language of Michigan. Making English the official language of our state is not only unnecessary, it is divisive, exclusionary and serves no one. Yet the Michigan Legislature seems to think it’s an important use of their time and energy, despite roads crumbling around them.
Young immigrants in Michigan and around the country have been in limbo for months as President Donald Trump and Congress continue to delay action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Ending DACA could send young people back to homelands they barely know to meet a fate that could be disastrous. Yet Congress and our president seem unable to make things right for people who are American in every sense of the word.
Placing farm workers, most of whom were born outside of the US, in unsanitary working conditions is reprehensible. Yet some in the Legislature seem comfortable telling certain employees that they don’t require the same level of safety and care as others.
And these are just a handful of the policies attacking our immigrants instead of welcoming them.
We at the League take these issues facing immigrants seriously. Our policy fellow, Victoria Crouse, has enhanced our work in this area, and in order to bring more attention to the issue, we have created a dedicated section of our website that focuses on immigrants in Michigan. We also have made supporting Michigan immigrants a priority in our 2019 state budget work.
Creating a state that is strong and welcoming is important to me as the President and CEO of the League. But it’s important to me on a personal level, as well. As a descendant of Yitzchak Wispe, I have a commitment to making sure no one leaves this country or this state because they feel unwanted or inhuman.
— Gilda Z. Jacobs