Saturday, June 03, 2006

When Jewish Mothers Are Considered Illegal Aliens

When Jewish Mothers Are Considered Illegal Aliens

Dov Burt Levy, columnist, Jewish Journal - Boston North, June 2, 2006

When I was a kid in Revere, I ran away from home a lot. The winters were freezing so I couldn't sleep on the beach. Instead, I snuck into the cellars of six-family houses and spent the night near the roaring coal furnace. Yes, the doors were unlocked and I entered illegally.

I thought of this last week, as the immigration debate in Washington focused on the issue of illegal entry. Groups and politicians opposed to granting citizenship — even with fines for taxes not paid, proof of English and history proficiency, and the like — are arguing that illegal aliens snuck into the country and didn't wait in line like honest immigrants, that their illegal acts cannot be sanctioned.

Truth is, if we deported just the illegal Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants and their offspring who have been here for the past 100 years, America might be required to throw out another 20-40 million people.

Face facts: America has left the Mexican door open for years, just as the cellar door was open when I needed it. Mexicans and Central Americans don't come here for the great climate, the tasty pizza, and certainly not for the marvelous welcome. They come because where they live there are no jobs, or they earn five dollars a day when most things cost about what they cost here. Desperate people make very life-threatening decisions.

Following my last column about immigration (April 21), I received this story from an old friend. While the story takes place in Canada, U.S. immigration history is replete with similar, heart-touching tales.

Here's my friend's story:

"Many years ago, before Canada became a vigorous multicultural nation, I was on the editorial board of the Toronto Star, writing at least four editorials a week. One day, I happened to arrive a few minutes late for the daily board meeting at which we decided who would write what, on what topics, on which side of the issue. As I came through the door I heard my colleagues 'kvetching' about the wave of illegals entering Canada — largely East Indian and Jamaicans in those days.

"They called them 'queue-jumpers' — namely, people who would not wait in line and go through Canada's demanding immigration process. As my colleagues' ire grew, I decided to intervene.

"'Listen up,' I said in a commanding voice. 'Before you get too embedded in the idea that illegal immigrants are a threat to Canada's sovereignty and welfare, let me advise you that my mother, my very own mother of blessed memory, was an illegal immigrant.'

"Because this was a highly educated and civilized bunch of non-Jews, a silence fell over the room as the lone female on the board examined the polish on her fingernails and my male colleagues looked down at their brogues [shoes].

"After a few seconds, the silence became painful. 'Let me take you out of your misery,' I said, 'and explain what this was all about.'

"I then told them about the penniless Stein family in the impoverished village of Popylan, Lithuania (Kovno Gebernia). Two brothers had already immigrated to Canada but they were finding it extremely hard to raise the money for visas, passports, ship tickets and railway fares to get the remainder of the family to Halifax, Nova Scotia, via Hamburg.

"However, there was another family in the village, somewhat better off than the Steins. They already had their papers in order and their tickets purchased. In a matter of months, when spring came, they would leave for America.

Unfortunately for them but fortunately for my family, a nine-year-old member of the wealthier family, a sweet girl with long golden curls, died that winter of meningitis.

"Instead of abandoning the unfortunate child's documents and tickets, her parents agreed to take my mother in their daughter's stead. So, my mother arrived in Canada with papers issued to a girl three years younger than she was. Canada's immigration officers apparently couldn't tell the difference between a nine-year-old and a twelve-year-old. In any case, my mother was small and undernourished, so it was probably hard to tell."

The writer, my former colleague Sol Littman, besides his time as an editor with the Toronto Star, had a distinguished career in both the general and Jewish communities in the United States and in Canada. He was a senior staffer with the ADL in New York, director of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Toronto, and is the author of two books on Nazi war criminals in Canada.

Should you, this summer, drop in to the University of Vermont, you will find Sol teaching a class on "Jewish writers in Europe and America, from Rabbi Nachman to Philip Roth". Not bad for the son of an illegal immigrant.

I'm willing to bet that the children and grandchildren of the 12 million current illegal immigrants in America will also make significant contributions to this country.

Stories like Sol's, plus our own family sagas, as well as a benevolent reading of American history, should immunize us all against the anti-illegals hysteria growing in our nation..

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