Why I Fight: A Letter to My Kids on the Holocaust, Immigration, and Trump
Dear Jake and Ellie,
Your great grandparents escaped the Nazis in 1938. Your great-grandma, Ellie, got a hold of a New York phone book by way of her father who had escaped to France. While in Vienna, she and her sister sent letters to every single Rosensweig in the phone book until someone agreed to sign an affidavit of support that they would take care of your great-grandma if she was unable to support herself. This was during the Great Depression when many people in America couldn’t find work, and so someone agreeing to vouch for a person they did not know was an extraordinary act.
Your great grandfather, Robert, knew he needed to get out of Vienna after Germany annexed Austria. He secured a visa to go to France, he was picked up by the German police and put into prison just for being Jewish. This happened in November 1938, in the wake of Kristallnacht. He had a non-Jewish girlfriend who was instrumental in getting him out of prison, after which he left immediately for France. Thank God he did—the other people picked up that night went to Dachau. He lived in France until the war broke out on Sept 1, 1939. At this time, he was ironically sent to a French prison camp for being a German citizen. Eventually, a relative in the states sponsored him and he arrived in February of 1940 to New York, where he eventually met your great-grandmother Ellie.
In both instances, securing a visa to come to the United States meant your great-grandparents had to pass a “public charge” test. If an immigration official predicted that they would become a “public charge”—a “ward of the state” who lived in the almshouse or were institutionalized at the government’s expense—they could be denied entry. During the 1930s, when anti-Semitism was rampant throughout the State Department, immigration officials would use the “public charge” test to deny entry to many Jews on these grounds. The whim of a consular official could determine who lived and who died.
Luckily, your great-grandparents lived, married, had your grandma Susan, and the rest is history.
Except that it isn’t. Last year, President Trump finalized a rule that would use the very same “public charge” criteria to make our immigration system less welcoming to people like your grandparents. And today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Supreme Court upheld that rule, allowing a racist policy to go forward on the very day we pledge “never again.”
While Jews were the “undesirables” of the 1930s, today President Trump is weaponizing the public charge provision to exclude—and even deport—immigrants who can’t pass a wealth test that disproportionately targets and hurts immigrants of color.
Our immigrant friends and neighbors are terrified to turn to public supports and health coverage they are eligible for. There is a fear that they won’t be able to reunite with their families or may even be deported. The people who do essential work, such as teaching and caring for kids like you—and who are not paid well for their contributions—could be penalized just for having low earnings. We know that every person is valuable and has something to give, but under this rule, if someone has a chronic health condition, they are dismissed and viewed as having little to contribute to our country.
I want you to know that Mommy is fighting against these bad rules every day. We have a long way to go before the country we live in reflects the values that our family holds dear. Your great grandparents were lucky. They made it through a system designed to keep people like them—like us—out. Millions of others like them weren’t so lucky. Today, it is our responsibility to make sure our immigration system does better—and I’ll be fighting every day to make sure that it does.