This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
I remember him (barely) as a thin, bald, little old man with a white mustache and a cane. As I write this, I'm looking at a photo of him in 1947, holding the hand of little Tommy Engelhardt who had just turned three that very July day. They're on a street somewhere in Brooklyn, New York, Tommy in shorts and a T-shirt and his grandfather, Moore (that wasn't his original name), wearing a suit and tie. It's hard to imagine him as the young Jewish boy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire who ran away from home -- somewhere in modern-day Poland -- after reportedly "pulling the Rabbi's whiskers" in a dispute. By his own account, he spent two desperate years working to scrape together the money for passage alone in the steerage of a ship from Hamburg to America and finally made it here in the early 1890s with the equivalent of a 50-cent piece in his pocket. And he was a lucky man.
He died when I was five, but sometimes I try to imagine him arriving in New York harbor and seeing that lady, the Statue of Liberty, for the first time. A century and a quarter later, I still wonder what, at that moment, he dreamed of when it came to the country that would indeed welcome him (though his life, in those early years, was -- at least as family stories had it -- anything but easy). How could I imagine myself as I am now (a bald little old man with a white mustache) without him, without that moment? So today, as Donald Trump does his best to keep every imaginable modern version of my grandfather out of this country and eject so many of those "Moores" now living here, I wonder about the grim cruelty of our world.
I wrote this about my grandfather early last year and, of course, it still applies:
"In other words, my grandfather was a kind of nineteenth-century equivalent of a DACA kid (though without even parents to bring him here). Like so many other immigrants of that era, he made it to the United States from a shithole part of Europe... and he was lucky... A few decades later, Jews like him, or Slavs, or Italians, or Asians of any variety -- the Haitians, Salvadorans, and Nigerians of that era -- would essentially be put under the early twentieth-century equivalent of Donald Trump's 'Muslim ban' and largely kept by law from entering the country. In those days, the analog to Trump's bitter complaints about Muslims and others of color was: Europe was 'making the United States a dumping ground for its undesirable nationals.' (So said Henry Fairfield Osborn, the then-president of New York's American Museum of Natural History, in 1925.)"
So, as I focused on today's chilling piece by TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg on the Trumpian assault on citizenship and so much else, I couldn't help thinking about those 16-year-olds of our moment so desperately trying to make it to this country across our southern border, often alone, and just how they've been "welcomed," as well as about the future Tom Engelhardts who will never come to be, at least not here in this -- as Greenberg points out -- increasingly walled-in and xenophobic land. Tom
Citizenship in the Age of Trump
Death by a Thousand Cuts
By Karen J. Greenberg- Advertisement -
It turns out that walls can't always be seen. Donald Trump may never build his "great, great wall," but that doesn't mean he isn't working to wall Americans in. It's a story that needs to be told.
This past month, for instance, claims of ISIS's near total defeat in Syria have continued to mount. As a result, numerous foreigners who had traveled there to fight for, or support, the caliphate have appealed to their home countries to take them back, presumably to stand trial for their support of terrorism. Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, and other nations have crafted responses that vary from lukewarm acceptance to outright denial of their citizenship status.
On that score, Donald Trump's White House hasn't just led the way, but has used the occasion to put yet more concrete and steel into the great wall his administration has been constructing around the very idea of what it is to be an American. Here in the United States, where the Statue of Liberty has been a welcoming beacon for more than a century, the Trump administration's response has not just been a fierce aversion to the return of such people, but the use of one of them to help redefine ever more narrowly the very idea of citizenship, of who belongs to this country. In the rejection of the citizenship of a former ISIS bride with child, the president and his advisors have, in an unprecedented way, refused to uphold the rights of U.S.-born citizens, let alone naturalized ones.
Get Out and/or Stay Out
Donald Trump arrived in the Oval Office with an expressed desire to take an axe to the lawful notion of citizenship as either a right or a promise. In the first days of his presidency, he promptly began reducing the number of individuals who might someday be eligible for U.S. citizenship with a Muslim ban against the arrival of anyone from seven largely Muslim countries. During those first days in power, the president also issued an executive order aimed at specifically reducing the number of refugees from Syria who could enter the country, even as he actively advocated for the building of his great wall on our southern border to keep out Mexicans and Central Americans.
But walling Americans in and keeping others out proved only to be a starting point for the most xenophobic president the country had elected in at least a century. On becoming president, Trump made it crystal clear that he meant to reduce the number of non-citizens already living here as well. Yet another of his early executive orders was aimed at rounding up and deporting illegal immigrants who had been in this country, often for decades.- Advertisement -
His promise and initial plan, never implemented, was to eliminate the prospect of future citizenship not just for undocumented immigrants already here, but for their children born here who, under the law, were certainly U.S. citizens. And he was true to his word. Over 2017 and 2018, he deported nearly half a million individuals who had come here illegally, many of whom had, until then, lived productive lives in this country for years, if not decades. So, too, he continued to threaten DACA, or "dreamers" program, designed to provide undocumented immigrants who arrived as children with protection against deportation. When it comes to that program, his intent is crystal clear, even if the courts and Congress have slowed him down so far.
Meanwhile, he also turned to naturalized citizens. On them, the Fourteenth Amendment is clear. It grants citizenship to all persons "born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." Under U.S. law, denaturalization can occur only in certain situations, such as if an individual lies on his or her application for citizenship or due to bad conduct -- such as membership in a terrorist organization or an other-than-honorable discharge from the armed forces -- in the first five years of citizenship.
During Trump's presidency, there has been an all-out effort to find and prosecute such cases. Between 1990 and 2017, according to the National Immigration Forum, the Department of Justice filed an average of 11 cases of this sort a year. In 2017, that number more than doubled, and 2,500 new investigations were reportedly opened. In June 2018, the DHS even announced plans to create a new office in southern California, whose focus would be uncovering cases ripe for denaturalization.