It’s easy to sympathize with the families of illegal immigrants. They are caught in a terrible bind that often places children who are American citizens in a position where their parents who came here illegally face deportation. Their tears are genuine as they face the prospect of either being forced to move to countries where they’ve never lived or being separated from loved ones. The families and individuals in this predicament who choose to evade the law live in fear of discovery.
Such situations are very sad. But are those caught in such dilemmas the moral equivalent of Holocaust victims in hiding from the Nazis? Are the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement no different from the Gestapo or others who cooperated with the Hitler regime? Does a knock on the door from ICE the same thing as being sent to a certain awful death at Auschwitz merely for the crime of being Jewish?
That’s the argument being made by religious congregations that are seeking to provide sanctuary for illegals who are eligible for deportation. This effort, which was highlighted by a dramatic CNN news feature aired last week, depicts those involved as victims of a heartless state that deserves to be resisted, not least because it is headed by a president they despise. Those who seek to provide sanctuary think of themselves as not merely engaging in a political protest, but as the moral equivalent of righteous gentiles who sought to hide Jews from the Hitler regime.
In doing so they aren’t merely demonstrating a lack of respect for the rule of law, they’re also insulting the memory of the actual Holocaust. This goes beyond the sort of ordinary virtue signaling on the order of those who put “Hate has no home here” signs on their lawns. It is brazen law breaking justified by a dramatic self-regard in which those involved imagine themselves taking part in a dramatic rebellion against tyranny.
It also demonstrates the corrosive nature of the left’s commitment to “resistance” rather than mere opposition to the Trump administration. Those who have claimed that there was no harm to the left’s adoption of such terms must now confront a culture of contempt for law that has spread from liberal politicians like Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf to religious congregations, with unforeseen consequences for American democracy.
Even without inappropriate analogies, the concept of sanctuary cities or congregations is a dubious one, both from an ethical and a legal point of view. The essence of democracy is a willingness to accept the rule of law, even when you don’t necessarily approve each law. Applied on a general scale, the idea that some laws can be disregarded is a recipe for anarchy and chaos.
That is bad enough when such sentiments are mouthed by small government conservatives who don’t bristle at the exercise of almost all forms of government power in principle. Coming from liberals who believe in big government as a matter of faith it is the height of hypocrisy. Nor is it something most on the left would accept if it were a matter of Tea Party activists demanding to be exempted of taxes they thought were unjust or the right of government agents to intervene in private sector transactions. Those who cheer not merely the flouting of immigration laws by illegal immigrants, but also thwarting the efforts of federal authorities to enforce those statues are the first to cry for crippling fines, or worse, for those who ask to be exempted from federal mandates about contraception or gay marriage.
It is doubly outrageous when local governments set themselves up in opposition to Washington’s right to enforce laws that clearly fall under the federal rubric. The debate about whether states had a right to nullify federal laws they didn’t like was definitively decided during the Civil War.
Moreover, it is difficult to see exactly what legal principle sanctuary advocates are defending. If all foreign residents without legal permission to remain in the United States are deserving of protection against the right of the government to enforce immigration laws, then the assertion of a “right” to sanctuary in a state, municipality or house of worship isn’t so much an argument for liberalizing the law so much as it is one that any limits on the right of anyone to be in the United States are wrong.
Sanctuary doesn’t discriminate between various kinds of illegal immigrants. It is not just for people who were brought to this country illegally as children or their families, but for anyone. There is no real logical distinction between sanctuary and a demand for no borders and no border security of any kind.
It is possible to argue that resistance against unjust laws is quintessentially American. Indeed, opposition to the pre-Civil War federal statute that demanded the return of runaway slaves to their owners is something we rightly treat as a glorious chapter in American history. But even if you think immigration laws should be liberalized it is simply not possible to put forward a serious argument of any kind that a person who is here in the United States without legal permission and therefore faces deportation to his country of origin is in the same position as someone enslaved.
But it is especially egregious, not to mention mendacious, to speak as if the plight of even the most sympathetic illegal immigrants are somehow analogous to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust as the unidentified giver of sanctuary in the CNN feature asserted.
Must we remind the Jewish family that was portrayed on CNN as heroes and who flaunted their religious identification as justification for their conduct, that whatever fate may await illegals, deportation to their homes is not a ticket to a death factory? Illegal immigrants are not targeted for their ethnic identity or their faith. They are subject to prosecution because — no matter who they are or where they came from — they committed a felony by crossing into the United States without permission or remaining after a visa expires.
Unlike the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants who came to the United States seeking work and a better life but were unwilling or unable to wait in line like those who seek legal entry to the country, Jews didn’t flee the Nazis looking for economic opportunity. They were marked for death because of who they were and six million died merely for the crime of being a Jew.
To behave as if everyone on the lam from the law is the same as a Jew being hunted down by Nazis is to diminish not only the singularity of that historic crime, but also its meaning. To treat every child in hiding as if she were another Anne Frank is to undermine the lesson of that iconic diarist’s plight, her suffering and her ultimate fate at the hands of the Nazi death machine.
Serious people avoid Holocaust analogies for the simple reason that there is nothing remotely comparable to the annihilation of European Jewry except other instances of genocide. Say what you will about America’s broken immigration system but it is not mass murder or an instance of a tyrant breaking the laws to victimize a specific group. To the contrary, ICE’s efforts are legal efforts to enforce laws that were freely and fairly voted into law by a democratically elected Congress. Those who are arrested have the right to appeal their deportations and may, if they can, assert extenuating circumstances that warrant the court’s allowing them to remain in the United States. It may not be perfect, but saying that those who haven’t the legal right to stay in the United States ought not to remain isn’t fascism.
Those who spread these despicable analogies and engage in this illegal behavior are acting as if they can relive the tragedies of the past, while playing romantic heroes who fought the Holocaust. That ought to be a bridge too far even for groups and religious denominations that oppose current immigration law and want amnesty for illegals. It is incumbent upon their leaders to speak out against this outrage and to instruct their members of the cost to civil society of “resistance” against the law. If they fail to do so, they are both trivializing the memory of the Holocaust and undermining any case they might otherwise make for their cause.