The good thing about humans is that we’re resilient and resourceful. We can forget the pain of the past and forge brilliant futures because time heals all, or most, wounds.
But gaining too much distance from our past can be a dangerous thing, as noted by neuropsychologist David Glosser—who also happens to be the uncle of Stephen Miller, chief architect of US president Donald Trump’s harsh and restrictive immigration policies.
In a scathing editorial published on Politico today (Aug. 13), Glosser reminds his nephew and the world of their family’s immigrant roots and humble history. Miller’s great-grandfather,Wolf-Leib Glosser, came to the US in 1903 from what is now Belarus. He had little money, spoke no English, and was fleeing pogroms targeting Jews. He worked for three years to save money for passage for other family members. Glosser writes:
I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses—the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants—been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom.
Glosser sees distinct parallels between anti-immigrant policies today and the not-so-distant past. “The Glossers came to the US just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the ‘America First’ nativists of the day closed US borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol.”
Instead, the Glossers succeeded in achieving the American dream and then some. “In the span of some 80 years and five decades, this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens,” Miller’s uncle explains. Yet none of that would have been possible, Glosser posits, without the protection of US law, and a fundamental recognition that this is a country of, and for, immigrants.
Today, our understanding of our common foreignness—however distant it is in history—is being eroded. And it’s notable that a great-grandchild of immigrants is the one pushing immigration restrictions. Glosser writes, “I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.”
For Glosser, who worked with refugees as a neuropsychologist at HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), a global non-profit that protects refugees and helped his family a century before, his nephew’s actions are deeply disturbing. He calls Miller an “immigration hypocrite” and says “the normalization of [his] policies is rapidly eroding the collective conscience of America.”
Like Miller and Trump, many other Americans whose families were once immigrants have allowed themselves to ignore their humble histories, and to forget that no one is immune when injustice reigns. ”Today others may be the target, but tomorrow it might just as easily be you or me,” Glosser writes.
Or, in the famous, poignant words of the Protestant pastor Martin Niemoeller, who spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps after opposing Adolf Hitler’s racist regime in Germany during World War II: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”