There’s a lot of competition for the title of least popular aide to U.S. President Donald Trump, but Stephen Miller might be at the top of the list. The architect of Trump’s immigration stands and a conservative policy wonk, he has earned a reputation as a strident ideologue.
Miller’s advocacy for the ban on the entry of residents from several Muslim majority countries, family separation of illegal immigrants at the border, and cuts in the number of legal refugees and immigrants allowed in have put a bull’s-eye on his back. But the list of his critics extends beyond the White House press corps. It seems that he’s not very well-liked by his own family.
This week in Politico, Miller’s uncle, Dr. David Glosser, a prominent Philadelphia surgeon and professor, calls him to task for his immigration views. It’s clear that Glosser’s disdain for his nephew isn’t strictly partisan, as a snide reference to Miller’s high school career illustrates. But the substance of the argument is what earned the piece wide play throughout the media.
Glosser wrote about Miller’s great-grandfather, Wolf-Leib Glosser, who immigrated to the United States from now-Belarus in 1903. The tale is a familiar story of Eastern European Jews leaving poverty and persecution for opportunity in the New World. Wolf-Leib and his brother spoke no English and had no money when they arrived, but through sweatshops and peddling, they earned enough to bring the rest of their family over. Eventually, they built a chain of successful stores, ensuring their descendants would grow up in comfort and wealth.
Glosser’s point is that Miller’s policies, including limiting immigration to those who can aid the U.S. economy and ending chain immigration based on family unification, would have denied Wolf-Leib entry to the country. His descendants might well have perished in the pogroms, wars, and ultimately, the Holocaust that followed.
Glosser is right. Just about anyone who calls for limits on immigration is probably a hypocrite. Other than Native Americans and the descendants of slaves, all of us stem from people who arrived on these shores hoping for better lives.
But to claim, as Glosser seems to, that this should end all arguments about immigration, is specious. Hypocrisy is common across the political spectrum. Miller’s desire to close the gates is no more hypocritical than President Barack Obama’s sending his children to expensive private schools while denying school-choice programs to the poor people.
If you think Miller is wrong, then make that argument. Throwing family history in his face is just another way of saying “shut up.”
But a bigger problem with Glosser’s argument is that it is disingenuous.
Until 1924, when Congress imposed limits and quotas, America had open borders — only those with contagious diseases were turned away. The country that welcomed unlimited immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries was a different place. To replicate that now would be unimaginable. Americans would not be content to let vast numbers of immigrants languish in grinding poverty or allow the unsafe, poorly paid manufacturing jobs that gave previous generations their first step towards prosperity.
Equally disingenuous are the arguments that today’s refugees are the moral equivalent of Jews who fled Nazi Europe. As rough as Central America may be, its population is not marked for death. Those who claim that providing “sanctuary” is the same as hiding Anne Frank undermine the rule of law, as well as dishonor the Holocaust. Asking immigrants to obey the law, just as previous generations did, is not oppression.
There are reasonable criticisms to be made of Miller’s positions and those of other “immigration hawks,” especially those who oppose allowing in more non-whites because it changes the character of the nation. Such arguments can be rightly termed as redolent of past waves of “Know Nothing” xenophobia that opposed the entry of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants.
But advocating a shift to merit-based policy, or taking a hard line against illegal immigration, is not immoral. Nor is it racist to seek better vetting for those who come from terrorist hotbeds or to point out that it is not America’s responsibility to solve every refugee crisis in the world.
Americans should remember their backgrounds when pondering immigration, but to claim that is the only consideration is just another way of demonizing legitimate points of view. Though dialogue between Miller and Glosser seems to have broken down, if the rest of us are going to be able to discuss the issue, we should stick to what makes sense now, rather than demanding a return to the policies of 1903 that no one in their right mind wants.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.