American Immigration Policy and the Holocaust: There Is No Equivalance

By: Ryan McMaken

One would think this doesn’t need to be said, but apparently it is: there’s a difference between deporting foreign nationals, and murdering people en masse.

Having already thrown Godwin’s law out the window by insisting that Donald Trump is “literally Hitler” the American left has now moved on to blithely comparing the detention of accused non-government-approved immigrants to Nazi death camps.

It’s perfectly possible to oppose the detention policies without comparing them to the Holocaust, of course. Multiple Jewish organizations, for instance, such as this one , oppose the deportation policies, but point out the irresponsible nature of comparing them to Nazi death camps:

If somebody compared something I did to the Nazis, I hope in outrage I would jump right to the heart of Nazism: “The Nazis’ aim was to harness all the power of the state to industrial-scale murder and the destruction of an entire race. Unless you are actually talking about genocide, it’s demagoguery to compare any policy with which you disagree to Nazism.”

Having long ago gone off the deep end with All Things Trump, however, the sort of people who make these comparisons actually seem to think this is appropriate. But, as Bret Easton Ellis — whose not exactly a rightwing stooge — recently pointed out , the constant comparisons to Nazism has become insufferable:

These last few weeks really were a flipping point for me, with the depression over the Supreme Court and the way the detention centers were being spun by the liberal media. It’s obviously a game. Here’s Rachel Maddow crying on TV, and pictures of Trump detention centers. My stepfather, who is a Polish Jew, had his entire family wiped out when he was an infant. Throwing around words like Nazi, Gestapo and comparisons to Weimar Germany is like, “Really guys? You’re going there?” I’ve had enough.

Now we hear about a theater company in Los Angeles that’s producing an updated version of the Diary of Anne Frank in which the family is hiding from American immigration agents instead of Nazis.

This position is basically the equivalent to saying that having your entire family worked to death or starved to death or gassed to death in a Nazi “labor” camp is the same thing as temporary detention and deportation. Moreover, keep in mind that the deportees are not stateless. They are foreign nationals who retain their citizenship in their home countries. Were they stateless, they would have certain legal protections under the US legal system. Victims of the Holocaust, of course, were either stateless — having had their citizenship abolished by the German state — or they were prisoners of an invading state. They weren’t allowed to return to their home countries. Not even in theory.

The actual “living” conditions within the camps themselves was in no way comparable to those in American immigration detention centers today. Even when the Nazis weren’t actively trying to kill people, they created conditions that led to countless deaths through disease. One example of course, is the typhus epidemic that likely killed Anne Frank.

And that last statement is an important reminder: Anne Frank died in custody of the German state — along with about 95 percent of her fellow Holocaust victims from the Netherlands.

Comparing that to modern American immigration policy strains all credibility to the point of being darkly laughable.

Moreover, current immigration policy in the US isn’t even comparable to previous smaller outrages in this country. For instance, one could point to the spate of lynchings and other killings that occurred in 1915 in the wake of the so-called Plan de San Diego in which elements in the Mexican government had attempted to incite a “race war” in the US using disgruntled Mexican-Americans. The plan to attack Anglos was small and failed, but was comparable to what we might call “terrorism” today. Around 20 Anglo Texans died in the attacks.

But the backlash was immense. In response, the Texas Rangers and local informal militias engaged in “a systematic manhunt” that made few efforts to target the actual perpetrators of the killings, but was geared more toward executing a campaign of terror against Mexican-Americans. Observers at the time estimated that the number of those killed numbered anywhere from 150 to 1,500 people, although the consensus today appears to come in around 300.

Benjamin Herber Johnson, in his book Revolution in Texas recounts some of the details from the time:

By early fall, the signs of the vigilantism were inescapable. It was not just that Tejanos [i.e., Mexican-Americans] knew of friends and relatives who were dealt summary justice and could speculate about the changes of meeting such a fate themselves. The violence directed at them had clear public manifestations in the piles of bodies left to rot in public. ..

Yet those who yearned to bury their loved ones were often too afraid to do so. The Rangers and vigilantes targeted relative of alleged bandits, and so to bury a friend or relative was to court death…

The ongoing sights were enough to convince any Tejano that there was no refuge in South Texas. In mid-September, for example, someone traveling from San Benito to Edinburg might have seen what a New York reporter witness “The bodies of three of the twenty or more Mexicans that were locked up overnight in the small frame jail at San Benito were found lying beside the road two miles east of the town this afternoon. All three of them were shot in the back.”

Tejanos also knew that their persecutors made deliberate efforts to terrorize those whom they did not kill outright … Others also recalled burnings. Interviewed by his grandson nearly sixty years later, Francisco Sandoval emphasized that the Rangers killed people simply for the pleasure of it, adding that “they burnt them, they burnt them alive…”

After awhile [sic] the sheer number of lynchings may have inured residents, especially Anglos; terror and fear had become part of daily life.

The anti-Mexican-American reprisals didn’t stop in 1915. They continued sporadically for years afterward, as noted in 2015 in the New York Times:

On Jan. 28, 1918, a band of Texas Rangers and ranchers arrived in the village of Porvenir in Presidio County, Tex. Mexican outlaws had recently attacked a nearby ranch, and the posse presumed that the locals were acting as spies and informants for Mexican raiders on the other side of the border. The group rounded up nearly two dozen men, searched their houses, and marched 15 of them to a rock bluff near the village and executed them. The Porvenir massacre, as it has become known, was the climactic event in what Mexican-Americans remember as the Hora de Sangre (Hour of Blood). It led, the following year, to an investigation by the Texas Legislature and reform of the Rangers.

The acts had real repercussions for Mexican-Americans at the time.

Many Mexican-Americans in the region relocated to other states to escape the Texas Rangers, and some returned to Mexico. My own grandparents, being Mexican-Americans themselves, relocated to California in part to escape the legal and political environment there at the time. According to my grandmother, her brother Benito denounced the “gringos” and moved back to Mexico where he opened a hotel.

Unfortunately, that generation has long since passed on, but it’s unlikely that even these people, who themselves were acquainted with true nationalist bigotry, would ever allow themselves to make the sorts of over-the-top assertions now made by anti-Trump activists. In fact, the Nazi comparisons seem to be primarily the domain of highly educated non-Hispanic whites who feel the need to virtue signal by comparing every injustice to Nazi mass murder. 

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