Should the United States restrict immigration? Well, let's start with our values. America was conceived as a haven of refuge--Thomas Paine says so in Common Sense--for people fleeing from religious and political repression and violence all over the world. He said we would be an "asylum for mankind," and he did not mean an insane asylum. So all of us, except the descendants of slaves and Native Americans, are the progeny of immigrants. That's more than a statement of fact, it's a statement of values, most beautifully memorialized in Emma Lazarus's poem on the Statue of Liberty. It's interesting to look at the words--it's about the people who were the throwaways and castaways of every society, "the wretched refuse of your teeming shore."
I realize that there's another theory out there, which the alt-right has been promoting, that America is a nation defined by white supremacy. I choose not to see it that way--whether you say it as praise or criticism, it just strikes me as wrong to say that's the central meaning of the American experiment. We obviously have deep roots in white supremacy, but this is an evil we've rebelled against. We've gone through periods of intense xenophobia and anti-immigrant feeling, but we've also come through these periods and returned to our better angels.
Do Jews have a special responsibility toward immigrants? For Jews, the current crisis has both theological and historical resonance. There's that beautiful passage, "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34). There's something profound and chilling about that. Passover calls for all Jews to think of themselves as the slaves and stateless refugees in Exodus, seeking freedom and security in a new homeland. And even for more secular Jews, our historical experience as a people speaks strongly to what it means to be a refugee from state violence. Most American Jews hear in childhood the stories of the St. Louis ship being turned away from America with German Jews on board, people looking for refuge from Nazism. We identify with the outsiders.
Does what's happening at the border reflect a broad desire to reduce immigration levels overall? The basic fact of politics is that everything touches everything else and we're paying the price now for the toxic politics of the 2016 presidential campaign, which featured Donald...