Most American Jews are descendants of immigrants. Does that obligate them to support unrestricted immigration to America – both legal and illegal? Is the current wave of immigration from Latin America similar to the wave that brought many of our ancestors to these shores at the turn of the 20th century?
To answer these questions and to get a general overview of conditions at America’s volatile southern border today, The Jewish Press recently spoke with immigration expert Daniel Horowitz, a frum Jew from Baltimore who serves as senior editor of Conservative Review. He writes a daily column, hosts a podcast, “The Conservative Conscience,” and is the author of Stolen Sovereignty: How to Stop Unelected Judges from Transforming America.
The Jewish Press: How would you describe the situation at our southern border right now?
Horowitz: The head of the Border Patrol union told me last week that this is the worst border crisis in our history. We’re likely seeing the largest flow of migrants ever to this country, and almost all of them are being released into the interior of the United States.
Your average American is under the impression that a foreigner who walks up to the border without a passport is barred from entering the country. You’re saying that isn’t true – that many are let in regardless?
Correct. What’s happening today is that because of a series of executive decisions by the Obama administration which were later codified by certain lower courts, people from Central America are coming to the border and using our asylum laws to gain entry into the country.
In the past, we would deport them if they didn’t qualify for asylum (and none of these people today qualify because Central America is a very homogenous place and you don’t have group persecution based on race, ethnicity, or political views). In the past, we would also detain them pending the outcome of their asylum adjudication.
Under Obama, however, the courts said every child at the border has to be released. And then, in July 2018, a judge in California ruled that any parent who comes with a child has to be released. So that just opened the floodgates. Now you just come, assert credible fear [of being persecuted in your home country], and you’re admitted pending the adjudication. You then skip your court date and disappear into the population.
So, today, if I live in Mexico, I can just come up to the border with a child, say I have a credible fear, and I’ll be let into the country?
What if I come without a child and don’t claim to be persecuted back home?
You would be deported. But you would have to be pretty dumb to do that. All you have to say are the words “credible fear” and you’ll get in.
You’ve written that considering the nature of the crisis, Trump’s border wall wouldn’t even accomplish very much.
A border wall works if you respect your own border. But if we’re going to believe that anyone who comes with a claim has to be let in, a border wall doesn’t help.
Why wouldn’t it help? A person can’t come in and claim persecution in his home country if a wall is blocking his access to this country.
First, we’re not building the wall everywhere. It’s 50 miles here and 50 miles there. So as long as there are significant portions where they can come in and surrender themselves, they’re going to continue doing that.
Second, for various political, legal, and sometimes environmental reasons, we don’t put border barriers literally right at the border. They’re always recessed into our territory 50-100 yards north. This is especially true in Texas where you have the Rio Grande River. So as soon as they cross the river and step foot on our soil, they are in U.S. territory and the legal guidance the administration is getting is that Border Patrol agents [stationed on the other side of a border fence] must go out and process them.
So until we solve this issue that any lower court from lower California can declare an edict that binds the executive branch, a border fence won’t do much other than – it’s important to note – keep out people who don’t want to get caught, like criminals and cartel smugglers.
Why not just give those 50-100 yards north of the Rio Grande River as a gift to Mexico so that people who cross the river can no longer claim to be on American soil?
Look, where there’s a will, there’s a way. We don’t need a wall as much as we need a will. We clearly don’t have the will right now of a sovereign nation. There are many things we could do if we actually understood the severity of the situation.
When Jews read about the immigration debate, they often think: Our great-grandparents also came to this country extremely poor without knowing a word of English. But all their kids wound up becoming fully American and contributed greatly to this country. Why, then, worry so much about immigration from Latin America? What’s the big deal?
In chapter 7 of my book, I list about 10 different factors differentiating the Great Wave of immigration from 1881-1921 from this particular wave that has been going on since the 1970s. Number one, on Ellis Island they were extremely strict. If they saw any diseases, you were inadmissible. If they viewed someone as “feeble-minded,” you were inadmissible.
There was also no welfare state [that immigrants could take advantage of] and there was a very strong culture of assimilation. So kids back then might have spoken a foreign language to their parents, but they learned English right away in schools. Today, the census data shows that second-generation migrants are not proficient in English.
Also, 90 percent of the migration back then was from Europe. So, they were kind of different, but not that different. When you compare Eastern or Central European culture and education standards to American education standards in 1890, the gap is nowhere as large as, say, between 2019 America and 2019 Somalia or Guatemala.
Finally, it’s very important to note that there was a shut off back then. It was passed by voice vote out of Congress in 1921. There was a broad consensus that we had a number of decades of high immigration and now is the time to absorb the immigrants.
And you know what? History has shown that it worked. Today, though, we have had 50 years of unmitigated mass migration that keeps intensifying with no sign of any shut off in sight.
Many Jews criticize America for closing its doors at that time considering that it prevented many Jews trying to escape the Nazis in the 1930s.
You have to look at American public policy in general. The rationale behind the shut off was not wrong; it was proven right. Could you have added some exceptions later on when you saw what was going on in Europe? For sure. But the policy itself wasn’t wrong.
It’s also important to note that when you talk about true refugees – Jews fleeing Nazis or Yazidis fleeing Sunni Muslims in Iraq – you have a distinct ethnic or religious minority that you can easily disentangle from the carnage of what’s going on in those countries with the full confidence that you’re not bringing in the problems too.
What’s happening now – both with mass legal immigration from Islamic countries and illegal immigration from Central America – is that we’re bringing in large numbers of people from very homogenous areas. So while there might be some people seeking a better life who won’t be a problem, clearly there are many problems we’re bringing in and there’s no way to disentangle them.
So left-wing Jewish groups have a lot of nerve invoking the Holocaust to promote mass Islamic migration. We see the results in Europe. Jews are now refugees from places like France and the chief rabbi of Belgium says there’s no future for Jews in Europe. This is where we’re tolerant of the intolerant under the guise of tolerance.
It’s true that we allow many people from the Middle East into this country, but the bulk of legal and illegal immigration comes from Latin America.
Even on the Latin American front, Jews need to be concerned. In many third-world countries there’s a pervasive, conspiratorial view of Jews – that they run the world and control everything.
Now, if you have a gradual migration and a melting pot [culture], it works. But if you just bring in so many people helter skelter from the Third World, you’re bringing in third-world values and included in that are views of Jews that are often problematic. There’s a very different form of Catholicism that’s practiced in some of these countries.
We say in Koheles: There’s a time for everything, and that’s very true of immigration. There’s a time for more of an open-door policy, and there’s a time for more of a closed-door policy, and after decades of mass migration from the Middle East and Third World, we need a cooling-off period.
It’s a vacuous argument to say, “Because you’re a product of migration, therefore for all time you have to have an open border under all circumstances. Time, numbers, and origin all matter. You do people no favors by bringing in MS-13 or people who have radical views about Jews.
Ben Shapiro, a national conservative figure; Joel Pollack, senior editor-at-large at Breitbart News; and you, senior editor of Conservative Review, are all Orthodox Jews. Do you think Orthodox participation in conservative politics is a growing phenomenon?
It’s going to grow over time because the left has become so extreme. This isn’t your grandparents’ Democratic Party. Over time, the far left will take over the party and there won’t be a remnant of pro-Israel sentiment left. The Democrats’ social values are also moving very far to the left, so I think [the emergence of Orthodox voices in the conservative movement] is just a byproduct of more Orthodox Jews being conservative politically.
Do you see this as a positive development?
I do because for 100 years you had it so embedded in the American body politic that Jews are liberal. I think it’s good that the country gets to see that Judaism is not necessarily about socialism or open borders.
By the way, there are many interesting things [Judaism says] about sovereignty. When G-d was leading the Jews out of Egypt, He could have done whatever He wanted. The Jews were the apple of his eye. And yet, He still has them ask for permission to traverse the boundary of two nation-states [Moav and Edom].
And when these nations belligerently turn down [the Jews’ request] and come out armed to go to war, you would expect G-d to tell Moses, “Slaughter them!” But He doesn’t. The Jews went around and endured a lot of trouble because even G-d himself would not traverse the sovereignty of a nation.
I’ll just close with this important thought. When you’re the head of a household, you’re job is to protect your children and your wife. As we say in our parlance, chesed begins in the home. So when you’re an elected official, your job is to represent [your people].
If you want to open up a missionary in Central America on your dime, that’s laudatory. But your concern first and foremost must be your people. You cannot jeopardize the economic security and safety of your people, bringing in people from very volatile places with many social problems just because maybe some will prosper.