‘What has happened to us in this country?’ Eleanor Roosevelt lamented amid opposition to a 1939 proposal to admit 20,000 Jewish child refugees to the United States after Kristallnacht, the start of the Nazi pogrom against Jews. Welcoming ‘unfortunates from other countries’ did not merely constitute a ‘generous gesture’, she argued. Rather, Americans had historically ‘profited a thousand-fold by what they have brought us’. But the First Lady’s pleas fell on deaf ears. The Wagner-Rogers ‘Child Refugee’ Bill died in Congress.
The themes – the nature of American values, ideals and identity – that animated that debate still resonate today, as Joe Biden seeks to become the first president since 1986 to overhaul America’s immigration system.