Slamming the Door on Refugees—Again

what. have we. become

On June 6, 1939, the United States refused to allow entrance to 937 refugees from Nazi Germany who arrived on the M.S. St. Louis. Today, the Trump administration refuses to allow entrance to any refugees. Its latest: a regulation denying asylum to almost everyone. The regulation would:

  • restrict protection for people who have been or fear that they will be tortured;
  • eliminate all protection for people fleeing violence from non-government actors (such as paramilitaries, gangs, or even rogue police or military officers acting without legal orders);
  • deny asylum to anyone who travels through a third country on their way to the United States—thus putting into a regulation the very provision that U.S. courts have said violates U.S. law;
  • strip away due process rights for asylum seekers;
  • deny asylum to anyone whose claim is based on gender, which would include all victims of domestic violence, even when that violence is endorsed by their country’s law enforcement apparatus, and all LGBTQ people whose lives are endangered by persecution in their home countries.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) has a clear and detailed description of these provisions, and a click-to-comment link that makes it easy to register your opposition. But you’ll have to act quickly—the normal 60-day period for public comment on proposed federal regulations has been shortened to only 30 days for this regulation.

Why the short time frame? No reason that I can see—the Trump administration has already acted to turn back ALL asylum seekers at the borders and to refuse entry to all refugees, using COVID-19 as a pretext for its arbitrary actions.

Back in 1939, when the United States turned away the refugees on the M.S. St. Louis, they had to return to Europe. During World War II, about one-third of the passengers died in Nazi concentration camps. Many others were interned in concentration camps but survived.

In 2009, too late by far, the United States formally acknowledged their suffering and said that it “recognizes the 70th anniversary of the M.S. St. Louis tragedy as an opportunity for public officials and educators to raise awareness about an important historical event, the lessons of which are relevant to current and future generations.”

Today, the text of that apology has been scrubbed from the State Department website. The lessons are forgotten or ignored.

Eighty-one years after turning away the M.S. St. Louis, the United States once again slams the door on desperate people seeking safety in the United States.

We must do better than this. Please register your opposition to the latest anti-refugee move with a public comment in the Federal Register. And then please register your opposition to all of the racist and anti-immigrant moves of this administration with your voice aand your vote in this election year.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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