BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
While hypocrisy runneth over at the White House on numerous fronts, it is particularly glaring when it comes to the issue of immigration. However, thanks to Jennifer Mendelsohn, the woman behind the #resistancegenealogy movement, we know a lot more about the immigrant experiences of the families of some of the administration's – and their media acolytes' -- most strident anti-immigrant voices. And those histories are chock full of the very things the administration has been critical of, including so-called chain migration, the inability to speak English, and the coming to this country to seek work, any kind of work.
In a mid-January Politico piece, titled "How Would Trump's Immigration Crackdown Have Affected His Own Team?", Mendelsohn, a Baltimore, Maryland-based free-lance writer, discussed her work tracking the family histories of anti-immigrant advocates. To put her work in perspective, she cited a comment – that appeared in a 2016 Chicago Sun-Times editorial -- by immigration historian Tyler Anbinder: "From the days of the Puritans to the present, every generation of Americans has believed that the latest wave of immigrants is completely different from—and inferior to—their own immigrant ancestors and could never become true Americans."
I learned of Mendelsohn's work through The Talk of the Town column in The New Yorker magazine's February 5th edition. Jonathan Blitzer's short piece, headlined "Resistance Genealogist," reported on Mendelsohn's kitchen-table investigations delving into the family histories of Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy advisor, Iowa Congressman Steve King, the Fox News Channel's Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson, and a White House social media director Dan Scavino, Jr.. All have histories of making blatant anti-immigrant remarks, and in Miller's case, helping craft Trump's immigration policy.
According to Blitzer, last summer, after Miller appeared "on television to support a bill that would penalize immigrants who didn't speak English, Mendelsohn took to Twitter. 'Miller favors immigrants who speak English,' she began. 'But the 1910 census shows his own great-grandmother couldn't.'"
Mendelsohn discovered "a census document indicating that Miller's ancestor spoke only Yiddish," Blitzer pointed out. "It's hilarious how easy it is to find hypocrisy," Mendelsohn told Blitzer, "And I'm a scary-good sleuth."
Investigating Miller was just the tip of a hypocrisy goldmine that she discovered by taking "the names of anti-immigrant activists' family members [and] plug[ging] the information into search engines (familysearch.org, ancestry.com), which gave birth and death records and marriage notices," Blitzer reported.
Mendelsohn moved from Miller to long-time anti-immigrant activist Congressman Steve King, who has said "we cant' restore our civilization with someone's else's babies," and found that King's grandmother, Freda Harm, arrived at Ellis Island from Germany as a four-year-old, in 1894.
The great-great-grandfather of Lahren, who said -- "Respect the laws and we welcome you. If not, bye." – "had been indicted for forging citizenship papers in 1917," Blitzer noted. A Swiss ancestor of Carlson, who said __ "Why does America benefit from having tons of people from failing countries come here?" – "came to America looking for work in 1860," Blitzer noted,
"Chain migration" a sinister-sounding term for family reunification, has surfaced in the vocabulary of Trump and other anti-immigrant advocates. According to Blitzer, "Last month, … Scavino said that chain migration was 'choking' America."
Mendelsohn took to the Internet and posted the following on Twitter: "So Dan, let's say Victor Scavino arrives from Canelli, Italy in 1904, then brother Hector in 1905, brother Gildo in 1912, sister Esther in 1913 & sister Clotilde and their father Giuseppe in 1916, and the live together in New York. Do you think they would count as chain migration?'
In an interview with JTA, Mendelsohn pointed out "When you do genealogy, you're constantly confronted with the reality of our immigrant past. It appears from some of the attitudes and stances that people are taking publicly that they're forgetting that."
In addition to uncovering blatant hypocrisy among the anti-immigrant crowd, Mendelsohn is making a greater point, telling Blitzer: "Unless you're Native American or you descend from slaves who were brought here against their will, you are an immigrant in this country, or you're a descendant of an immigrant in this country. I want to make it personal."