Commentary – George Washington’s Viewpoint

by Robert Kimmel

Given the current controversy over our government’s policies concerning immigrants coming to our shores and across our borders, it might be useful to go back in history to determine how our nation’s first President viewed similar issues. As an example, what might George Washington have said about the current administration’s decision to suspend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, (DACA)? Or the disparaging racism that has risen of late?

The legislation creating DACA, also known as the “Dream Act,” was signed by President Obama in 2012 to provide a way for some people who came to the U.S. illegally as minors, and often raised here, to have deportation deferred for two years, and have that action renewable. The hundreds of thousands of “dreamers” enrolled also became eligible for a work permit. It was also seen as a pathway to permanent residency.

The Trump administration’s action last month rescinding the program gives Congress six months before implementing deportation, if that is decided, for those currently affected, including about 41,000 in New York State. It has generated fear and confusion among them, some already with their own families.

At a tourist stop in Newport, Rhode Island, there are copies of a letter written by George Washington. The stop is the Touro Synagogue, built in 1759, and our first President’s correspondence is a response to a letter written by a leader of the congregation. That letter, written in 1790, praised President Washington and expressed “gratitude” for “…a government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance – but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue or language equal parts of the great government machine.”

Washington, who was soon to visit Newport, responded, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that tolerance is spoken of, as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

The President’s letter added, “May the children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Yes, circumstances and time have changed many things, but need more be said?

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