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Kirk Douglas Muses on The Status of Immigrants

'I had mixed emotions as I held my first great-grandchild in my arms.'

This January my grandson Cameron introduced me to his newborn daughter, Lua Izzy. I had mixed emotions as I held my first great-grandchild in my arms. Joy, of course. A touch of sadness because as her life begins, my days are numbered. An almost irrational optimism that when this half-Brazilian baby comes of age, the xenophobia about immigrants and cries for “big beautiful walls” to secure our borders will be ancient history. I hope Lua and her friends will enjoy the multicultural, multiracial America I was so proud of prior to the last election.

I am eternally grateful that my illiterate parents were able to leave the poverty and pogroms of their shtetl in Russia for the United States, where they could never have been admitted under our current President’s push for merit-based immigration. As a matter of fact, his own grandfather, a barely trained barber’s apprentice of 16 from a working-class family in Bavaria, could never have made the cut; let alone, his beloved mother who left Scotland to better herself as a maid in America.

In a sense, my parents were refugees as well as immigrants. Their area of Russia was extremely dangerous for Jews (my mother’s brother was murdered by a Cossack) and they were forbidden to live anywhere else by order of the Tsar. Fiddler on the Roof is a sanitized version of their difficult village life in Russia.

I empathize deeply with those from El Salvador who will soon be deported to their unsafe homeland; for the Haitian refugees who have had their status reversed despite candidate Trump telling them not to worry; with those from war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East who have undergone rigorous vetting over several years only to be denied visas because the current administration doesn’t want them here. DACA recipients, finally able to come out of the shadow, will be deported in March unless Congress agrees to draconian cuts to immigration quotas and eliminates the ability of law-abiding immigrants to sponsor other members of their family.

My own personal experience is that immigrants make better Americans than those of us who were born here. My mother never took for granted the opportunities available to her children. She would often exclaim, whenever anything improbably good happened to me, “America, what a wonderful land!”

My wife Anne, an immigrant who experienced life under Hitler’s totalitarian regime in both Germany and France, still chastises me when I take the blessings of citizenship for granted. She and I were both inspired by President Kennedy’s line in his Inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” We traveled to more than 44 countries over the next decade, as goodwill ambassadors for the State Department, personally paying for every trip.The award I cherish most is The Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor.

I worry when surveys show that an extraordinary number of Americans know more about sports heroes and music idols than they do about history and government–two subjects that used to be emphasized in our schools. Any naturalized citizen knows the fundamentals of the Constitution, and how our governments function on the national, state and local levels. Its mandatory for them to pass a test before getting citizenship.

Our founding patriots believed in a free Press, and could not have conceived of a time when an ignorant populace would be brainwashed into believing the concept of Fake News or the absurdity of “alternative facts.” The breakdown of trust in our institutions and the turning against minority groups is how Hitler came to power, Anne keeps reminding me.

Deportation is a cruel tool, and candidate Trump promised to use it only on the criminals in our midst. Well, like so many other promises….

Here is how a deportation order in 1905 affected Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich, who resettled in his hometown in Bavaria after making his fortune in America. His letter to the Bavarian regent, Prince Luitpold, was reprinted in the March, 2017 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Its sentiments are eerily similar to any of the pleadings of those who are facing deportation in America:

“We were confronted all at once,” Friedrich Trump writes, “as if by a lightning strike from fair skies, with the news that the High Royal State Ministry had decided that we must leave our residence in the Kingdom of Bavaria. We were paralyzed with fright; our happy family life was tarnished. My wife has been overcome by anxiety, and my lovely child has become sick. Why should we be deported? This is very hard for a family….”

Of course, Friedrich had broken the law when he first left for America at 16. He fled Bavaria to avoid compulsory military service, and the draft-dodger had been stripped of his citizenship. Ah–if only he’d been allowed to stay. America might have been spared President Trump. 

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