Taking on the “Boxcar” Crowd

In the Saturday (11/29/2014) New York Times story about the provenance of President Obama’s executive order on immigration, readers learned that House Speaker John Boehner faced opposition to comprehensive immigration legislation “from what Republican aides call the ‘boxcars crowd,’ a reference to conservative members who favor deportation for most of the 11 million” undocumented people in the country.

Absent from the story was any mention of shame, dismay, or denial by Mr. Boehner or the unnamed Republic aides that such a “boxcars crowd” exists within their caucus. Surely all the efforts to provide lessons about the Shoah should have produced a generation of Americans, whether Republican aides, electeds of either party, or fifth-graders in school, who know that the Nazi criminals used boxcars to “deport” the unwanted people from their midst.

It would be helpful to obtain a roster of the “boxcars crowd.” Certainly doing that work would be a worthy project for the reporting staffs of the major national newspapers. Better yet, it would be helpful to have a roster of the Republican leadership who condone the deportationists, just as it has become increasingly clear over time that the perpetrators of the Shoah included not only the criminal designers of the murder program but also the people who remained silent or were complicit as its evil work went forward.

There may be some in the “boxcars crowd” who have studied the Nazi legal system and who would contend the Hitler regime only deported people who were not citizens, most having been stripped of German citizenship prior to other crimes having been perpetrated against them. This argument would qualify as defining a distinction without a difference. It would also cause concern if anyone in the “boxcars crowd” had made a serious study of the Nazi legal system.

I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the “boxcars crowd,” once named, would closely resemble the late 19th century populists the historian Richard Hofstadter had in mind when he wrote about the “Paranoid Style in American Politics” nearly a half century ago. Those who practiced the “paranoid style” of politics tended to nativists, racists, biblical literalists, and—no big surprise—bigoted against Jews. Except for the biblical literalism, much the same could be said for early 20th century progressives who made common cause with the populists to bring us such failures of coalitional politics as the Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan limiting immigration from that country, the National Origins Act which virtually ended European immigration to the US in the 1920s and 1930s—with horrific consequences for Jews seeking escape from Nazism but finding the US closed to most of them—Prohibition, quotas limiting Jewish enrollment in private colleges, and restrictive covenants prohibiting Jews from living anywhere we wished.

The deportationist “boxcars crowd” should remind us that not only the Exodus lesson (“for you were a stranger in Egypt”) but also our experience and interests in the US compel us to have a very tender approach to those treated as the other, as people of inferior status.

Images reminiscent of the Shoah are not new to the issue of US enforcement of immigration laws. In 1979, late in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the local chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) allied with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) to sue the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) because of the so-called “factory surveys” used by the INS to discover and deport illegal immigrants. What struck the AJC leaders at the time was the way in which INS officers would enter a garment factory, block the exits, then march down the aisles of operatives, making a “selection” of those who looked like undocumented persons. (Disclosure: I was a very junior member of the AJC staff who worked on this matter.)

US District Court Judge Laughlin Waters rejected a plea for injunctive relief; an appeal to the 9th Circuit was successful, but the Supreme Court of the US upheld the INS’s methods. AJC friend of the court briefs attempted to explain the civil rights aspect of the case. Similar arguments from MALDEF were equally unavailing. Perhaps the limitation of the civil rights coalition in this case to AJC and MALDEF, while perhaps advancing further cooperation between Jews and Mexican-Americans, was too narrow to convince the Justices that a genuine civil rights problem was involved. When I used this case, decided by the Supreme Court in 1984 as INS v Delgado, for lessons at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at American Jewish University, some students wondered if the outcome would have been different if organizations like the Urban League, Japanese American Citizens League, and Korean American Coalition had joined the AJC briefs.

Amicus briefs rarely influence appellate courts, but they do provide a mechanism for like-minded organizations to make common cause on important issues. Just as the “boxcars crowd” represents a coalition whose attitude to the “other” has sought deportation as its favored solution, so should the leaders of Jewish public affairs organizations—now a much more numerous group than when AJC, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Community Relations Committee of the local Jewish Federation ruled the day—join with those who are like us, “others,” and at peril from the “boxcars crowd.”

Neil Kramer is Dean of Faculty Emeritus at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, California

Briefs: DREAM Act passage pushed, City clears Holocaust Museum hurdle, but one more remains

DREAM Act Passage Pushed

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) joined last week in a mock graduation to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would enable the estimated 50,000 undocumented students who graduate high school each year to enter college and earn citizenship.

“Abraham was the prototype of an immigrant. More accurately, he can be viewed as the first successful immigrant,” Seth Brysk, executive director of AJC’s Los Angeles office, said at the protest in downtown Los Angeles. “We must give students the opportunity to complete their education, regardless of their immigration status, to pursue higher education, to obtain legal status and to contribute to American society.”

The DREAM Act — short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — has been included in two immigration reform bills but not passed into law. Currently, undocumented students face greater challenges in getting financial aid for college and in-state tuition, as well as uncertain career opportunities. The DREAM Act would allow those who immigrated more than five years ago or when they were 15 or younger to work toward citizenship upon graduating high school; a requirement would be two years of college or military service.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

City Clears Holocaust Museum Hurdle, One More Remains

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is a big step closer to being able to start building its permanent home at Pan Pacific Park.

Four months after the L.A. City Council unanimously approved a 50-year lease for the museum, the paperwork was finally signed in late October. The only hitch is that the city is still waiting to take over title of the state-owned park. But the city and state reached an agreement on the acre of the park where the museum is scheduled to break ground next Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Rememberance Day).

David Michaelson, chief assistant city attorney, said escrow should close by the end of November. The city paid in the ballpark of $30,000 for the title transfer and continues to negotiate regarding the remaining 30-plus acres of the municipally operated park.

— BG

Gillerman Sees Hope for Peace Talks

Daniel Gillerman was rejected by UCLA when he tried to enroll some decades ago, but he finally made it last week when he spoke as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Addressing some 300 students under the auspices of the increasingly active Bruins for Israel, Gillerman had bad news and good news.

On the pessimistic side, Gillerman warned that if the current turmoil in Pakistan degenerates into a takeover of the nation by Islamic extremists, “Israel will face a lethal danger and existential threat.”

Add to that Iran’s development of nuclear technology and weapons, and the cumulative dangers threaten not only Israel and the West, but the Arab world, as well.

“I believe that most Muslims want peace and that Islam as a religion is being held hostage by militant radicals,” he said. “Much of the Muslim world is beginning to wake up to that threat.”

On the brighter side, Gillerman held out some qualified hope for the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference, due to convene in Annapolis later this month.

“The chances for a convergence of minds have never been better,” he said. “Washington wants results, [Mideast peace envoy] Tony Blair wants results, and Israel, the Palestinians and the Muslim world are ready.”

But to advance the hoped-for results, the Palestinians’ hand must be strengthened through what Gillerman described as his LBL formula — legitimacy, business and leadership.

“The Arab world must give legitimacy to the Palestinian leadership, the international community must boost the Palestinians’ business and economy through a Marshall Plan, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must be strengthened in his leadership role,” Gillerman said.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Shul Organizes Holiday Volunteer Program

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Day can be a lonely time for the elderly, the poor and others at institutions because of short staffing, so Young Israel of Century City has started “Tain Yad” (“lend a hand” in Hebrew), a three-day volunteer effort for Jews to reach out to the community at large. Sponsored by the synagogue and City Councilman Jack Weiss’ office, Tain Yad was the idea of a board member, who suggested it to Rabbi Elazar Muskin. The rabbi asked his 17-year-old daughter Dina to helm it.

Tain Yad has room for some 230 volunteers for one- and two-and-a-half-hour slots at 11 different institutions on the three holidays. (Thanksgiving slots run from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., so there’s still time to prepare the meal.) Volunteers can visit the elderly at hospitals, convalescent homes and nursing homes, drive food on Project Angel Food routes, help at a county fair for the Midnight Mission, paint houses for Hands for Hope or clean up public areas for L.A. Family Housing.

“One of the major ideas in this project is that the non-frum community has given back to L.A. institutions, but the Orthodox community does not participate normally in Big Sunday and the like,” said Dina, referring to Mitzvah Days and other projects that non-Orthodox synagogues organize to help the greater Los Angeles community. “It’s really important for our Orthodox community to get involved also.”

A mandatory training session will be held Wednesday night, Nov. 21, for all volunteers. To sign up, visit www.yicc.org.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor