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Precursors to a War Against Persecution

Many of us are in a state of shock or even mourning and, most likely, fear as a result of the uncommon election of the orange man (although I had warned people for months not to take the election for granted) to the presidency of The United States.

As for me, I am worried about the new administration's effect on policies regarding the environment, LGBTQ issues, women's rights and equality, living wages, Supreme Court nominations, immigration, mass incarceration and the justice system, and discriminatory practices against our diverse minorities--in no particular order of importance.

The rhetoric, however, spewed from the mouths of the new Republican leader (I can't bring myself to state his name) and his cronies truly frightens me. As a Jewish woman, I can't help but recall with terror the recent history of the Holocaust of World War II and, more particularly, of those actions that led to the Reich's creation and its subsequent wickedness.

The Treaty of Versailles, closing World War I, was guilty of both a lack of wisdom and foresight as well as a desire for vengeance against those perceived (and not necessarily correctly) of bringing on that "war to end all wars." Hitler, an energizing, inspiring, and skilled speaker could rally ever-growing crowds who had come to feel alienated and unfairly punished by the restrictions of the Treaty and other factors. These were once proud people who were desperate for maintaining a standard of living that was slipping away (consider the increased suffering that further burdened them because of the Great Depression), people who wanted and needed to believe that someone, anyone, could restore their lives to what they once had been--imagined or otherwise. Hitler, at the right time and place, was there to serve as savior, filling them with promises that they wanted to hear and in which they could believe. As a result, his audiences could place blame for their misery on groups of people who, it was asserted, were said to be responsible for their current state of despair. These so-called Aryans were eager to find and punish scapegoats for their diminished standard of living, believing that such perfidies by the hands of their leaders could somehow improve their own lives.

Those people most vulnerable and apt to be victimized were not just the Jewish people who were to become the object of persecution and misplaced hatred and resentment. The target of this acrimony were also other discrete religious groups, political dissidents, unions leaders, the mentally and physically impaired, gays, people of "non-Aryan" backgrounds (it can be questioned whether Hitler himself could fit the Aryan description he himself had laid out)--the list was quite substantial.

My fear today is that history, in some form, could repeat itself in our own country--a possibility that should frighten us. After all, naïve thoughts once infused the minds of the multitude of Germans who were proud of their rich heritage and foolishly thought their nation could never produce the iniquitous leaders that it did, thus believing "It can't happen here." Yet it did!

Hitler was democratically elected but then gradually (though quickly enough) accrued the popular support he needed to develop into what was destined to be a malignant dictator. He surrounded himself with generals of like mind, men who would do his bidding (consider the Flynn and son effect). School children, whose minds were still malleable, were brainwashed (as well as a goodly part of the general population--including their teachers) into believing the evil canards being issued by the Third Reich. Its leaders promised to make Germany great again--to take Germany back [from those people who had no right to prosper and succeed (because they were innately inferior), those people who were accused of being responsible for taking jobs away, of not sharing common values, of being a threat to stability and security, of polluting the culture].

So we come back to what is transpiring now. What of the threat of creating a registry for Muslims (sound familiar)? What of denying immigrations status to those who are fleeing other countries for their very lives (recall the ship turned away by FDR, sending people to certain death)? What of the umbrella group, AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim [mentioned above), and South Asian]? What will happen to them? What of those who want to turn back the clock on our LGBTQ brothers and sisters (think of the VP-elect's belief in conversion therapy)? What of the women who will be denied preventive medical care by defunding Planned Parenthood and other similar clinics (remember back-alley abortions) which serve in the main to provide mammograms and pap smears and other necessary treatment for women? What of reversing the journey to universal health care? Reduced programs will surely lead to a deterioration in the health of millions for lack of attention to medical, dental, and vision diagnoses and treatment, and, too often, even to death.

So what can and should we do? For sure, we cannot wait until the troops march in. "It can't happen here"--what a fallacy.

We must recognize the validity of the assertions made herein. We cannot afford to delay. We are our brothers and sisters' keepers. When do we act? As is often quoted, "If not now, when?!"

While each of the issues mentioned above are serious, those surrounding immigration and attacks on religious liberties must be among priority concerns. Do you know that 50% of Federal prosecutions are immigrant-related? Are you aware that such defendants are generally not eligible to many Constitutional guarantees and protections, such as the provision of a public defender? Therefore, many of those accused of illegal status are deprived of legal representation in immigration courts and are thus deported even if many have the legal right to remain. If you think of the Miranda ruling, it may not apply to their cases because undocumented status could be considered a civil offense for which legal representation does not apply and, hence, does not have to be offered. We must, however, urge prosecutorial discretion (that can be requested and ought to be granted at deportation hearings) despite possible contrary directives emanating from the future administration.

There is, though, the "Catch 22" factor. The next president is asserting that he will first go after criminal undocumented aliens for deportation, but his concept of "criminal" is very broad: one could be a criminal based upon a traffic ticket or an expired driver's license. So the definition of a criminal undocumented could be whatever the next administration wants it to be. Thus, raids are being threatened on homes and businesses where the government believes the possibility of undocumented and otherwise "undesirable" people can be found.

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Currently, many positive actions, thank goodness, are being taken despite potential threats from the next administration (such as withholding monies that would otherwise go to fund needed programs at the state or local levels should those governmental entities not cooperate on immigration regulations promulgated at the Federal level).

The University of California system (under Janet Napolitano's leadership) will protect students at risk of removal. Columbia University in New York will not even allow ICE on campus to search for undocumented students. Chief Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department stated that his police force will not cooperate with any agency whose goal is to arrest and eventually jail and/or deport those immigrants/refugees at risk. LAUSD has similarly indicated it will not cooperate. Many religious institutions are currently finding homes within communities to provide housing, meals, clothing, and an access to schools for the children. Other religious communities are already offering sanctuary for all those affected and subject to removal by Federal authorities. The State of California and Los Angeles County are introducing measures that would grant the right of universal representation for any individual brought before any court system--which would include those whose offenses include illegal entry or visa overstays.

We, as individuals and as part of groups, must have the fortitude, the moral fiber, the diligence, the determination, the persistence, and resoluteness to contribute in a productive way--whatever is possible.

Meanwhile, many families are being torn apart. School children return to homes where parents have been arrested and summarily removed from their residences and then detained for eventual deportation--to homelands which have already sworn to enslave, torture, and kill them. DACA youth (the Dreamers) have innocently signed up (having provided significant personal information that could soon be used against them) for deferred status so that they can finish school and find gainful, meaningful employment--without fear of deportation and being taken from their families. Will youth who were brought here as mere children be returned to countries of birth where they do not know anyone, often as not don't speak the language, and are generally unfamiliar with the culture? Millions of the undocumented work, pay taxes (without representation), own homes, have families, contribute to their communities, and yet live in the shadows.

It should not be incompatible with our efforts to work with the opposition in order to find middle ground and not just give lip service to such a concept. We must be committed to do right by all segments of society and to allow multitudes of immigrants to come out of the shadows. Supporters of this thinking are not asking for outright amnesty but, instead, for a pathway to legal status.

Michelle Alexander of The New Jim Crow made a salient point when she said that we need to unite with people who are victims of the same economic anxieties. We must recognize that we have more in common than not. We can champion strategies that will bring each one of the affected out of the abyss of despair. As a result of such joint efforts, we can together rise up to achieve the true American Dream (instead of pitting one racial/ethnic/ regional group against another). Remember Martin Luther King, Jr.'s pronouncements about what we as a community can do "one day. . . ."

In the meantime, we must join the Movement of Sacred Resistance. We must teach the skeptical among us how to perceive the diverse segments of our respective communities in a more affirmative way.

We may soon witness a new Underground Railroad to save and protect victims of anti-immigrant policies. We, as a compassionate people, must push for sanctuary cities and states across the country. We must urge our religious institutions to engage actively to support this mission. We must prevail upon our elected leaders to utilize their positions to uphold the Constitution as it now stands--freedoms of speech, assembly, religious practice, press, and so on.

Furthermore, we cannot allow the media to be cowed by threats and imprecations made against them from the highest levels. Journalistic independence has, is, and must continue to be independent while the news media in general must only be accountable for and disseminate truths--not "truthiness."

We must also work with equal diligence to insure that religious minorities, such as those of the Muslim faith, are not persecuted and be willing passionately to exclaim, "I am Spartacus!" No one who lives in this nation should live in fear. Everyone who lives in this country must know that there are millions among them who will have their back and be by their side.

This is the new Civil Rights Movement of which I speak. We must stand up and be counted (think of the thousands of veterans and so many others at the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock who are willing to do just that). We must be willing to speak out, write, march, educate, petition, demonstrate, be arrested. We must consider organized and strategic mass mobilization. We must be willing to protest orders that seem immoral and out of step with our history, our American Creed. We must be willing to challenge policies and put in every ounce of our strength to change them for the betterment of all.

In conclusion, lest we forget, indeed, Love trumps hate! Let us be lovers!

For more information, please contact the following:

  • CLUE-LA (Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice)
  • Central American Unaccompanied Minors
  • UCARE (Unaccompanied Central American Refugee Empowerment)
  • The Matthew 25 Movement
  • CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles)
  • Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law: Frontera Sur

Rosemary Jenkins